Frederick Wiseman Gets Freaky At the Crazy Horse

Zipporah Films are getting better at this.  They have BDR options now, and I was pleasantly surprised to see their latest release's audio tracks were even lossless.  So all of Frederick Wiseman's recent films have at least decent HD options; it's just most of his back catalog that's relegated to standard def.  What's worse, most of them are interlaced.  So I was pleasantly surprised again, then, to realize that one of his previous films, Crazy Horse, has a unique HD option thanks to a blu-ray release in China.  Why has just this one particular film of his been so blessed, when I'd actually rank it among the least of Wiseman's works?  Probably because it's chock full of wall-to-wall nudity.
Crazy Horse is a famous, upscale exotic dance cabaret in Paris, France, and also credited as co-producers of this documentary.  Wiseman's studied similar theatrical venues in 2009's La Danse 1996's La Comédie-Française ou L'amour joué and 1995's Ballet; so this is nothing unexpected, apart from the fact that this is the only nudie revue.  Otherwise, as Wiseman documentaries go, this is standard stuff, showing us every aspect of the space, from the on-stage performances to the managers business meetings.  We see the audiences pose for photos, tech rehearsals, the staff preparing the meals, with the usual moody exterior location shots every so often... classic Wiseman.  And, reliably, there are some great moments captured, like the dancers backstage laughing at a tape of ballet bloopers or the managers getting surprised by a transgender performer amidst their auditions.
But Wiseman's decision to retain most of the dance numbers from beginning to end slows the film down to a bit of a crawl.  There are some genuinely strong aspects to the numbers; their creative use of scrims and a particularly clever dance with mirrors.  But you'll figure out quick that the Crazy Horse is mostly a one-trick pony: they project colorful, animated lights onto their dancers' bodies.  The end.  So on the one hand, they're certainly higher quality productions than you'll catch at your corner strip joint, but it still falls pretty short of a profound, high art experience.  We get to hear one song, the main Crazy Horse anthem, several times: they rehearse it, record it, stage it and eventually perform it for their audience: "Paris comes to the Crazy, The Crazy is Paris.  The Eiffel tower.  The Eiffel tower is all lit up like a girl of the Crazy.  What is your name?  D-E-S-I-R-E.!  You'll dream of the Crazy naked in your bed; the girls of the Crazy will watch over you.  D-E-S-I-R-E.!  The girls of the Crazy taste like champagne.  Champagne tastes like the girls of the Crazy."  By the third round, it really hit me: boy, this is a terrible song.  It gets more inane every time we return to it.  They're good dancers, but they're not great singers.  And even the dancing isn't that amazing.  As a Wiseman fan, this film is another intriguingly thorough portrait of an institution, albeit one of the drier ones (minus the easy thrill of naked bodies in nearly every scene), but it sure didn't make me run out to buy tickets.
Zipporah Films released Crazy Horse on DVDR right after its limited theatrical run in 2011.  This was still before they offered BDR options, so I ordered it because it was all there was.  At least at first.  But in 2012, blu-rays were released in China and France.  The French blu isn't English friendly, though, so for those of us who aren't fluent in the language of love, the Chinese blu from CN Entertainment is our only option.  But is it worth it, or just some kind of dodgy upconvert?
2011 Zipporah DVDR top; 2012 CN BD bottom.
Happily, it's a properly pressed, authentically 1080p HD blu.  Zipporah's MOD DVDR was new enough that it wasn't interlaced... exactly.  But as you can see in the first set of shots, it has some frame rate issues, and plays at PAL speeds despite being an NTSC DVD.  This Chinese blu plays at the correct speed (running 134 minutes instead of the DVD's 128), and as you can see, replaces the ghosting visible in the first set of shots.  It also changes the aspect ratio, from the DVD's 1.66 to 1.85:1, revealing more information along the sides, though it does trim a sliver along the top and bottom.  Honestly, it looks like they're both adding mattes to a naturally 1.78 image, but the Chinese disc uncovers more and, to my eye at least, generally looks nicer.  So unless Frederick Wiseman decrees 1.66 his preferred framing somewhere, I'd say CN's is the preferable framing.  And it's naturally sharper and clearer by virtue of being in HD.

Both discs give us the choice of two mixes, Dolby stereo and 5.1 mixes with optional English subtitles, but the tracks are lossless on the blu.  Another win for CN.  Plus, both discs are essentially barebones like every Wiseman release ever; but the blu-ray at least has the trailer, which is more than the DVD can say.
So yes, this blu-ray is a very welcome treat.  Perhaps I should mention that I did have some trouble getting it to play on my Samsung player.  It didn't want to load, and I had to keep ejecting and retrying it for a good ten minutes.  Hopefully it was just my copy (no troubles on PC drive, though), but either way, once it relented and loaded it played fine all the way through.  I sure wish CN would give the same treatment to the rest of Wiseman's catalog, but I suspect the market might not be as flush for the films where everybody keeps their clothes on.

The Hills Have Eyes: A New Ultimate Edition?

Horror fans, this is a big one: Arrow's new 4k restoration of Wes Craven's classic The Hills Have Eyes, taken from two different 35mm color reversals (the original negatives have been lost).  Of course, it's come up before whether a 16mm film will even really benefit from an HD upgrade (i.e. Blue Underground's initial reluctance to reissue Shock Waves), and certainly fans had better brace themselves for a lot of grain and not so much detail, but I think past examples have shown that there is the possibility of decent improvement; just don't expect it to look like Lawrence of Arabia.  And the fact that Arrow has teamed up with Red Shirt pictures to give us the a really souped up special edition with the alternate ending finally restored makes this release impossible to ignore anyway.

Update 10/9/16 - 6/20/21: Arrow's 4k restoration on 1080p blu-ray blew away all previous editions of The Hills Have Eyes, but in all of those cases, the possibility of a real 4k Ultra HD disc coming to steal its thunder looms heavy on the horizon. Well, four years later and here we go.
All of Wes Craven's best work has an edge that separates it from the more mainstream pop horror of the times, but this is one of his early film's that's almost all edge.  An almost idealistic, all American family are driving through the desert in their camper and run across another family.  This one's dirt poor and isolated to the point that they've practically gone feral, and certainly homicidal.  It doesn't help that the military seems to have been using their land for nuclear testing.  The two sides brutally go to war against each other - even the family dogs - and that's basically the entire plot.  It's just a savage tale of survival at any cost.
Few films, let alone the official sequel and remakes, have managed to live up to the raw ferocity of the original (although, as modern studio horror remakes go, you could do a lot worse than the 2006 Hills Have Eyes).  But it is dated in a way that will turn off some audiences.  Like, immature audiences might be distracted by the 70s fashions; but it can be hard for even serious horror aficionados not to find it a little silly that the killer family are dressed just like those old Roger Corman cavegirl movies, especially poor Laura Ortiz, in her Flintstones necklace and little fur booties.  But the rough, high stakes drama and the moving tragedy these people experience should pull you past that or any other little hang-ups you might get caught up on in a lesser film.  I mean, I won't spoil it, but the mother in the chair scene?  Oof.  You're not gonna find that in your little Goosebumps books.
Anchor Bay's 2003 2-disc special edition enjoyed a long reign as the definitive Hills Have Eyes release. Even when Image put out a blu-ray in 2011, I can't say I felt compelled to budge.  I did manage to borrow a copy of their DVD edition, though, just to flesh out the comparison a little more.  But in 2016, Arrow issued a brand new, limited edition 4k restored blu-ray that handily took the crown from all contenders. But now in 2021, Turbine has issued the film on 4k Ultra HD for the first time, in a fancy BD/UHD mediabook combo pack.
1) 2003 Anchor Bay DVD; 2) 2011 Image DVD; 3) 2016 Arrow BD;
4) 2021 Turbine BD; 5) 2021 Turbine UHD.
Okay, let's start with the framing. Both previous editions were slightly letterboxed to 1.83:1, but Arrow and Turbine have decided to leave the mini-mattes off and let it ride at an identical 1.78:1 (despite both company's packaging claiming 1.85).  More than that, though, we're seeing more picture on the right-hand side and a little less on the left.  In other words, we're seeing more new information that just the shift from 1.83 to 1.78.  Now, on the blu, the mid-range of the picture is brighter allowing you to see detail that's technically on the DVDs as well, but much darker and hidden.  And while no, the 16mm doesn't reveal a whole lot more information in 4k, the grain is much more defined in HD, rather than the smudgy mess of the SD DVDs.

But it begs the question, as a 16mm film, does it leave much for Turbine to uncover.  And in terms of detail, I'd say no.  Even in terms of film grain - while it's true that if you zoom in to 500% or so, you can see where the BD starts to break down to pixelization before the UHD; this is a higher resolution disc, after all - practically speaking, it's nothing the human eye is going to see on the television set.  The real hero of this story is the HDR.  Now, UHDs are generally a bit darker than their counterparts because they're meant to be displayed brighter for the broader range; and as you can see above, that extra darkness is immediately obvious.  But you can see there's even a difference with Turbine's BD, which takes a sort of middle-ground here in the comparisons, to give you a fuller sense of what we're talking about here.  The UHD is much richer and more lifelike, giving depth to skin tones and backgrounds that previously looked flat and unnatural even on Arrow's blu.  I mean, The Hills Have Eyes is always going to have somewhat of a raw, sun-washed look.  And we haven't lost that gritty film-like quality.  But this latest version pulls you in where previous editions still held you a little at arm's length.

For audio, the new blu preserves the original mono track in uncompressed PCM, but that's it.  I can see some fans being disappointed that they ditched the 5.1 remixes that the previous releases had, but I didn't miss 'em.  Still, it's also nice to have choices, and Turbine comes through with the original mono, the stereo and 5.1 mixes, all in DTS-HD (plus 5.1 and mono German dubs.  Arrow's blu was the first release of this film to provide English language subtitles, but Turbine has those, too, as well as German ones.
Interestingly, Image's DVD is barebones, with nothing but the trailer and a bonus trailer for Hellraiser.  But their concurrent blu-ray and the previous Anchor Bay set had a lot, including a great audio commentary by Craven and producer Peter Locke and a thorough hour-long 'making of' doc, featuring Craven, Locke, Michael Berryman, Janus Blythe, Robert Houston, Susan Lainer, Dee Wallace and DoP Eric Saarinen.  On top of that, it did have the alternate ending, trailers, TV spots and photo galleries.  It also included the Wes Craven episode of the rather good documentary series The Directors, and a booklet of artwork and notes by DVDManiac's Jon Putnam.  And by the way, except for the booklet, the Image blu had exactly the same extras as the AB set, and in standard def, too.

Arrow's blu imports almost all of that over, including the commentary, doc, trailers, TV spots, gallery, and the alternate ending (this time in HD).  The notable loss is The Directors, but that's not such a terrible loss because it's available elsewhere, including its own DVD release Winstar, and those DVDs sell on Amazon for pennies.  And everything else made it, plus Arrow enlisted Red Shirt Pictures to come up with a bunch of new stuff.  They've got an all-new, more on the light-hearted side cast commentary with Berryman, Blythe, Houston, Lainer and Martin Speer, and an academic commentary by Mikel J. Koven, which is quite good and informative, as opposed to some of the more self indulgent "I'll treat this like my personal podcast and prattle on about my childhood" commentaries we've had on films last week's Chopping Mall, or even previous Arrow discs like Nightmare City, The Black Cat or Slaughter High.  Then there's new on-camera interviews with Speer and composer Don Peake, and almost 20 minutes of unreleased outtake footage.  And, as you can see on the left, this limited edition also comes with a bunch of extra physical goodies, like a big, double-sided fold-out poster, six postcards of awesome vintage artwork, and a 40-page book, with notes by Brad Stevens and Ewan Kant.  It comes in a nice, thick slip-box, and the blu-ray case has reversible artwork.

And Turbine?  Well, here's where we take a step back after our two steps forward.  Turbine keeps most of the Anchor Bay stuff, like the documentary and Craven commentary, but not The Directors.  It also loses most of the newer Arrow stuff, like the new commentaries and interviews.  It does have outtake footage, though, and the alternate ending, trailer (in both English and German) and TV spots are all here.  The main theatrical trailer is even presented in 3840x2160, plus they added the trailer for The Hills Have Eyes 2.  And it's not all lost ground.  Turbine did come up with an exclusive Michael Berryman interview, where he discusses his experiences with Hills, as well as Cut & Run and The Evil Within.  Plus, this comes in an attractive mediabook (the text is all in German though, natch), with three cover options.
So the ideal way to go is easy to point out: the new Turbine edition for the ultimate PQ (and extra audio options), but hanging onto your Arrow for all those exclusive extras.  In fact, don't throw away your Image blu-ray or Anchor Bay DVDs either, unless you've got a copy of The Directors: Wes Craven somewhere else.  But it gets a little trickier when budget is a concern.  Is the improved PQ quality enough to justify another dip?  Do you care enough about extras that just the Turbine edition (which still has plenty of, and the most important, goodies) won't be enough for you?  You'll have to work that out for yourself.  But however you fall on the matter, I have to say Hills Have Eyes fans are pretty lucky to have these great options.  These are the kind of problems I'd like to have more often.

Zombie 4, Just Because

There's a whole bunch of exciting new releases coming out this summer, but it's been a little fallow in the meantime.  So how about we take a look at Claudio Fragasso's Zombie 4: After Death?  Just for fun, and also because I recently realized something about it that doesn't seem to get mentioned much in relation to this title.  And hey, it's a wacky and under-appreciated little flick.  Heck, now that I think about it, I'm surprised we haven't done this one before.
VHS cover from

, or Zombi, is one of those movie franchises that frequently don't connect, like Demons or House, where distributors would just slap the title on unrelated movies as a selling point.  Not that they're all disconnected.  I don't think anyone reading this needs me to explain that Zombie was titled Zombi 2 in Italy because it was Fulci's unofficial sequel to Dawn Of the Dead, which was titled Zombi in Italy.  Then Fulci eventually made a sequel to that, which was called Zombi 3, although they're all very loose sequels with no connecting characters or story lines.  But then again, you could say that about Romero's original trilogy, too.  So okay, they're sequels enough.  At least until you somehow get Jess Franco's Christina, Princess of Eroticism getting sold as Zombie 4, Joe D'Amato's Killing Birds as Zombie 5, Absurd as Zombie 6, and it's like okay, this is just a free-for-all of shameless marketing where any film on the planet can get a Zombie slapped on the box.  Apparently there was a whole other run in Australia, too, where different unrelated horror movies got retitled into the Zombie catalog, like Panic and Dawn Of the Mummy.
But After Death could be said to legitimately bear the Zombie 4 moniker, and is probably the most righteous heir you'd find.  Fragasso (and Bruno Mattei) finished Zombi 3 when Fulci's film, coming aboard as both co-writer and director.  And he made this the year after, filming it during the off hours at night while making Strike Commander 2, even reusing some of the same sets and props of Zombi 3.  The ensemble machine-gun toting collection of mercenaries and civilians getting thrown together as the film's protagonists feel an awful lot like the soldiers and civilians who find themselves hiding out in a similarly abandoned hotel in Zombi 3.  Macho tough guys gunning down zombies in the misty greenery of the Philippines feels very much like the last entry, except it's faster-paced without Fulci's somber atmosphere.  And the voodoo stuff harkens back to Zombi 2.  This movie was originally filmed simply as After Death with the Zombie 4 added later, but unlike Franco's Zombie 4 or any of the later subsequent films dubbed Zombie, this one really belongs.
And it's also just a better film than it gets treated as, even by horror fans.  I mean, sure it's goofy as heck, but that's more than half the fun.  The story's convoluted and the acting's cheesy, but it takes itself just seriously enough, moves at a tight clip, and delivers all the goods with heaps of zombie action, gory kills, and colorful imagery.  It's got a vibrant soundtrack, to say nothing of the rock anthem title song.  Sure, Jeff Stryker may be a porn star in practically his only "mainstream" movie, but he's not a hair out of place in the Fragasso/ Mattei oeuvre.  And honestly, this is one of the most entertaining films from either of them, right up there with their best work.  It's also one of those "fast zombie" flicks people ignore in their rush to credit Danny Boyle with inventing what came decades before him.

Scroll to the bottom of this page for a fun, first-hand account of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans during the shoot by actor Nick Nicholson, who played the meanest mercenary.
There have been plenty of DVDs of After Death around the world, going back to the Laser Paradise and Vipco days.  Shriek Show released what was probably the definitive SD edition back in 2002, which they also included in their 2005 Zombie Pack set.  But it was a whole new ball game in 2018, when Severin (quickly followed by 88 Films) released it on BD.  And this is what I never realized about this film until recently.  Severin's case describes it as "uncut for the first time ever in America."  No comments or write-ups I'd seen made much of it and so I didn't really take notice, but looking at it now, yeah, this is a longer cut.  Every previous version I've ever owned was missing stuff - who knew?  Before Severin released this complete version on blu, it had only been available on a 2009 German DVD from X-Rated.  We'd been missing out, but no longer.  There are three restored scenes.
restored scene #1.
22:50 - 24:56: After the boat docks, the Stryker trio stop and talk about the magically altered nature on the island and what happened to the people who'd been there before them. Then they go on hiking, which is where the shorter version syncs back up for a bit.

25:56 - 27:00: But only for a bit, because the longer version cuts back to the rest of the team at the dock, who argue about not wanting to venture off, but they can't fix their boat with what they've got.  Eventually they agree they have no choice and head off, which is where the short version syncs up again.

30:54 - 32:12: After mercenaries' first conflict with the zombies, the short version cuts back to the Stryker trio, but the longer version follows this other group longer through the woods.  They discover their boat has mysteriously vanished and decide they need to find a hospital, and the girl admits she's been on this island before.

So I can see why they were cut.  It's talking, not action.  And if you just have your eye on the pacing, these moments might seem like ballast.  But for all the complaints about how this film is nonsensical, restoring some of this exposition helps, well, at least a little bit.  And it really doesn't slow this film down much; it's already zipping by at rocket speed.  At the end of the day, they're nothing thrilling, but it's definitely better to have them than not.  Although they're not the only reason to upgrade.  Severin also presents us a fresh transfer from a brand new 2k scan, and just have a look.
2002 Shriek Show DVD top; 2018 Severin BD bottom.
What a difference - Severin gives us a new 2k scan, and Shriek Show gave us a washed and dupey SD transfer, so the disparity is remarkable.  Shriek Show's transfer is 1.66:1, while Severin's is 1.85:1.  And okay, you might say, Severin just matted it down to something a little more conventional, but no.  Actually Severin's scan reveals more picture along the sides, instead.  The colors are much stronger and more distinct, especially compared to the DVD - it turns out that guy's shirt was blue this whole time!  Also, like most of Shriek Show's otherwise carefully presented discs, the DVD is interlaced.  Of course the blu whisks that away, and replaces it with strong and natural film grain.  Seeing this movie look like an actual movie might help raise it in the estimation of the naysayers, too.

Both editions only include the English dub (yes, there was an Italian language version... that X-Rated DVD had it) in its original mono mix with removable English subtitles.  Severin's is in DTS-HD.
Shriek Show had some decent extras - more, in fact, than it hinted at on the back of its case.  According to the packaging that only mentioned their interview with Claudio Fragasso, which was actually rather good.  But pop in the disc, and it also had interviews with co-stars Stryker and Candice Daly, which are both must-watches despite the latter being awfully short.  It also had the theatrical trailer and, like most Shriek Show discs, a bunch of bonus trailers.
And Severin has taken the interesting choice of mostly replacing those old extras with new versions.  They dropped the Fragasso and Stryker interviews, but conducted fresh ones with both of them.  Their Fragasso interview is better, and also includes his wife and frequent co-writer screenwriter Rossella Drudi.  As for the Stryker interviews, it's kind of a tie; I kind of miss him posing with his sports car.  The Daly interview is the same one from the DVD except re-edited - tightened up with a lot more film clips mixed in.  And the trailer's still here.  Besides that, they've also uncovered a great little clip of (subtitled) behind-the-scenes footage.  And the first pressing of 3,000 copies also comes with a soundtrack CD, which yes, starts with the great "After Death" rock tune, and then follows with all the incidental score from the film.
So yeah, new 2k scan of the mostly unavailable uncut version with improved extras?  If this one's not in your collection yet, it ought to be.  And as of this writing at least, Severin still seems to have the first run with the soundtrack CDs in stock.  That's crazy to me; this title should have a much broader horror fan-base.  It's such beautiful zombie schlock.

Essential Fellini, Part 2: The Extravagant Years

And we're back, following Part 1 of our coverage of Criterion's giant-sized Essential Fellini blu-ray boxed set, with the second and final Part.  We're past all the early, 50's, neo-realist adjacent films of Federico Fellini's early career, and are now moving on to his more fanciful later work.  These tend to be the films of his I prefer, not just because they have more exotic, colorful imagery, but they also seem to be be - generally speaking, of course - digging at deeper, more personal issues at heart.  The 50s were a time of more on-the-nose melodrama, and now we move, not just to more expressionistic flourishes, but personalized art.

And because these tend to be my personally preferred films of his, it's no coincidence that this half of the set includes many films I've already covered on this site.  As of this writing, all of those pages, listed below, have been updated to include the new Essential Fellini discs:
Now we're in the realm of glorious color with 1965's Juliet Of the Spirits.  I just started to make a case of Fellini's later works being much more than just an excuse for over-the-top imagery and extravagant set-pieces, but if any film of his falls short of that claim, I think it's this one.  Giulietta Masina feels like she's struggling with little actual character to perform in this story of a jealous wife who gets caught up in the realm of the quasi-supernatural.  It's like this should be a journey of self-discovery, but Fellini and his co-writers don't have a film grasp, or even a strong interest, in Juliet's inner life, so they just distract themselves with wild supporting cast members, costumes and sets.  And they are all great fun to look at.  But ultimately, this feels like a much more hollow experience than the rest of Fellini's catalog.  But at least the surface is a treat.

Criterion first released this on DVD in 2002.  Cult Films released it on BD in the UK a couple years ago, but this set marks its HD debut in the US: a 4k restoration taken from the 35mm original camera negative and the interpositive.
2002 Criterion DVD top; 2020 Criterion BD bottom.
If any film needs to look good, it's this one, and Criterion's new blu is indeed a beaut.  The DVD, which was quite impressive for its time, now looks downright muddy and over-contrasty, though it might make the BD feel slightly pale in direct comparison.  The AR's been fixed from 1.81:1 to 1.85:1, with the framing also shifting slightly.  Jumping direct from SD to HD is obviously a huge boost in clarity, with a little old school tweaking being removed at the same time.  Grain does seem suspiciously light, though, so I wonder if a little tweaking is still on-hand.  But it's a big leap forward from the DVD in any case.

Both discs include the original Italian mono track with optional English subtitles, but the blu cleans it up and boosts it to LPCM.
Criterion's 2020 BD.
The extras are awfully interesting on this one, too.  To start with, the DVD offered a vintage TV interview with Fellini about the film and the trailer, both of which are happily ported to the blu.  The blu also adds a great, made-for-television behind-the-scenes documentary, which is the real gem.  That's about it for Juliet extras, but since this disc had some free space, they stuck some other nice odds and ends on here.  First, pictured above, is Fellini: A Director's Notebook, a great autobiographical little project Fellini made for Italian TV.  It was previously included on Criterion's 8 1/2 blu, and I've matched the screenshot from there so that you can see it's the same grubby transfer.  Still, it's a must-have for this collection.
Arrow's 2010 BD top; Criterion's 2020 BD bottom.
They've also included a new 4k restoration of Toby Dammit, which is both exciting and frustrating.  Toby, of course, is Fellini's segment from the anthology film Spirits Of the Dead.  It's exciting because: yay - new 4k scan of Fellini's loosely adapted Edgar Allen Poe story!  But it's frustrating because it doesn't include the rest of the film and they also give it a low 3GB encode, since I guess they're treating it like an extra.  Anyway, the encode's not really that bad; it's more just the fact that this is only a portion of a complete film.  It would've made more sense if Fellini's segments from Boccaccio '70 and Love In the City were also included in this set.  But hey, I'll take it.

As you can see, it adjusts the 1.85:1 framing to reveal a little more picture compared to Arrow's 2010 BD, and reworks the colors.  Grain might actually still be a bit stronger on the old BD, thanks to the encoding, which looks pretty digitized in parts on the Criterion.  So, you know, it's a nice extra on the surface; but you still need Arrow's blu, which then kinda renders it pointless.
And now we come to one of the reasons I was most excited to get this set, And the Ship Sailed On.  It's such a pure and complete cinematic experience, one of those you can watch over and over again.  Freddie Jones leads an ensemble cast as a journalist accompanying the most privileged elite of society on a romantic ocean liner trip where they almost manage to escape the harsh realities of their world.  Criterion put it out on DVD so long ago (1999) that it's not even anamorphic, rendering it virtually unwatchable in today's era.  The only BD available was a French disc from Gaumont, and a Brazilian boxed set of Fellini films, but neither offer English language options.  So we were badly in need of this Criterion 4k restoration, taken from the 35mm OCN.  One of my most desperate double-dips in a long time.
1999 Criterion DVD top; 2020 Criterion BD bottom.
There's no comparison, and yet here we go.  The framing was pretty close, at 1.84:1, as opposed to the blu's 1.85:1.  But the story is obviously the resolution, which is crushed even further on a non-anamorphic DVD to something like 533x291p.  It's just a mess of artifacts, jagged edges and extreme edge enhancement.  The colors are crushed and the blacks are frequently milky.  This blu is like a whole new movie.  The Italian mono is restored to LPCM with optional English subtitles; it's like a whole new movie.

The DVD was also barebones.  Fun fact: Catherine Breillat worked on the French translation for this film.  It would've been neat if Criterion got her on camera to talk about that, since they have a relationship with her.  But oh well.  They did come up with one sweet extra; a vintage-hour long 'making of' documentary.  It has a distracting RAI watermark bouncing around the screen the entire time, and the picture quality in general is pretty low; but otherwise it's terrific.
Finally, we have another one of the titles I was most excited for, 1987's Intervista, a fantastical portrait of Cinecitta Studios and Fellini's personal history with it.  This film just oozes charm, from Sergio Rubini as a young Fellini fascinated by the wonders of their epic film productions to the reunion of Marcello Mastroianni (in full Mandrake regalia!) and Anita Ekberg, all under the guise of filming Kafka's Amerika.  Few films, if any, have ever managed to exude the magic of cinema so perfectly.

Intervista's only been available on DVD up 'till now.  In 2005, Koch Lorber put out an okay disc, but it hasn't aged well.  So Criterion's new 2020 BD, restored in 4k from the original 35mm camera negative, is another revelation.
2005 Koch DVD top; 2020 Criterion BD bottom.
Koch's DVD is widescreen at 1.84:1, which is tempting to call the wrong aspect ratio.  But apart from being shy of 1.85, it should be noted that the film did play theatrically in some regions in that ratio, it's more of an "alternative" ratio than the wrong one.  Still, this was made for Italian TV, and Criterion's 1.37:1 is probably the way the film really should be seen.  But a case could be made for the widescreen, as opposed to the terrible interlacing of Koch's disc, which is indefensible.  So thank goodness for Criterion finally bringing this adventure to HD.  Artifacts are gone and in there place is a natural film grain that had been smoothed away in SD.  The colors have been adjusted, too.  Is the woman in the center wearing a pink or orange skirt (based on other shots, I'd say Criterion has it right).

There might be some question about the audio.  The DVD has the original Italian in stereo and an obviously revisionist 5.1 mix.  The blu has mono.  I believe the stereo mix was created for the film theatrically, and the mono is the original television mix.  Either way, both have optional English subs and the BD has lossless LPCM.
only on the DVD
Extras-wise, both disc came pretty well equipped.  Koch had a great, hour-long documentary on the making of the film, including exclusive interviews with the cast and crew, plus the trailer and a stills gallery.  Unfortunately, Criterion lost that doc.  They have a different hour-long doc, which is more on Fellini in general, plus another interview with him, an audio interview with Mastroianni that used to be on their La Dolce Vita blu, and a collection of ads and stuff Fellini created for Fred & Ginger (one of multiple great films conspicuously and disappointingly absent from this set).  So, some decent stuff, but nothing Intervista-specific.  Hang onto your DVDs for that.
But that's not all!  This set includes a bonus BD disc with an over 3-hour long documentary about Marcello Mastroianni called I Remember from 1997, a film that had been previously released on DVD by Fox Lorber back in 2000.  It's directed by his girlfriend at the time, documentary filmmaker Anna Maria Tatò, which allowed the film to get very intimate with Marcello, giving this film a unique, personal and slightly eccentric feel to it.  Interestingly, after his death in 1996, Catherine Deneuve, their daughter and his ex-wife united in trying to prevent the film from being released, but they didn't succeed.  Anyway, there's a brief tag at the opening referring to this film's restoration, but it doesn't divulge any details.  The film's presented in 1.66:1 and looks attractive in HD, though the English 5.1 mix is lossy.

Essential Fellini comes in a large, flat laserdisc-sized box that includes a 156-page book of essays on each film (i.e. what you'd get in your traditional Criterion booklets but all bound together) and another 84-page guide to his films, which is where the more practical descriptions, lists of extras and "About the Transfer"s can be found.  It's a fantastic set, and with so many films being made available in HD - or with these latest restorations - for the first time, they've surely got every serious film lover drooling over it.  It's just a shame that, like with their Bergman box, it still leaves you needing to collect so many other great films by the director that've been left out.  I hate to think of how many people will buy this and think they've got the complete collection.  But they will have more than a great start; they'll be more than halfway there with an amazing set of films and features to dig into.