Red's 25th, 27th and 40th Anniversary Editions

Warren Beatty's Reds is one of those rare films that really lives up to its legacy. It really deserves all of its Academy Awards. Everything was just done so right, and beyond what you'd expect, from the writing to the fantastic cast. When you see movies like Dick Tracy or Bulworth, you wonder what happened to that early Warren Beatty who made such a masterpiece? But Reds is also a bitch to get on blu-ray. Paramount made an excellent 25th Anniversary edition, and a separate DVD release, including a terrific little documentary on the film, when blu-rays were just coming out back in 2006, and most people hadn't yet adopted. In fact, there was an HD-DVD for this, too, because we were just in the beginning of the format wars at the time. They did reissue it in 2008 (which is why most online release dates show the 25th Anniversary disc coming out on the film's 27th anniversary), but even that's long out of print. The cheapest unused copy on Amazon is $74 as of this writing, and it was higher last time I looked, so you might want to jump on it. Or try to find an import that doesn't cost even more once you factor in the shipping.

Update 5/5/15 - 12/27/21: Six and a half years later, and Reds is finally back in print.  What's more, it's a new 4k restoration as part of the Paramount Presents line.  Woot!
Reds is the true story of journalist/poet/political activist John Reed, who wound up playing a huge role in the Bolshevik Revolution. It starts out with, and continually returns to, documentary interviews with real people from Jack's life, recounting their memories of him, but the bulk of the film is played out by a fantastic cast including Beatty, of course, along with Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson (as Eugene O'Neill), Maureen Stapleton, Paul Sorvino and Gene Hackman. The tagline for the film was, "Not since Gone With The Wind has there been a great romantic epic like it," and I daresay this film fully lives up to that hyperbolic claim. And perhaps unlike Gone With the Wind, Reds is just as powerful and moving today as it was the year of its release. Everything from the complex politics to the tragic romance flourish in this lavish production, with a very memorable score by Stephen Sondheim and a directorial style that actually feels reminiscent of classic Woody Allen, but on a grander scale.

So it sucked that you couldn't find a copy for a reasonable price for so long. I've still got copies of both US blu-ray editions here, as well as the original DVD release (surprisingly, the 25th Anniversary was also the film's DVD debut). But hopefully we can forget about all that and just pick up the new 40th Anniversary edition.  All it needs to be is affordable - check! - and definitive...  Check?
1) 2006 DVD; 2) 2006 BD; 3) 2008 BD; 4) 2021 BD.

The short scoop on the 2006 and 2008 blu-rays is, apart from the tackier artwork, the two editions are identical. Same transfer, same menus, everything. They did stick different labels on the discs themselves, but that's it. A small thing to note is that, regardless of which edition you're looking at, apart from the 40th, they did leave little bits of black and odds and ends in the overscan area, leaving the AR at about 1.77:1 throughout. It's really, really on the fringe, varies from shot to shot, and most viewers probably won't see it because they haven't reset their scan for proper 100% 16x9 anyway; but it is there. I guess in 2006, they figured no one would ever see outside the TV safe zone. The new blu, however, is properly matted to 1.85:1, while still revealing more image around the edges than ever before.  The framing has definitely been improved.
See those black edges? That's the overscan stuff I was talking about.
Apart from that, it's always been a pretty nice transfer, especially for such early blus. And seeing as they were concurrent releases, it only makes sense that the DVD has the same transfer as the first two BDs, in terms of framing, colors, etc. But of course, one is in HD and the other SD, so the DVD is naturally softer, more compressed and doesn't hold up as well on large monitors, as we can see when we get in close. The lines of Sorvino's features get pretty mushy on the DVD, above, which even the old blu-ray fixes up rather nicely.  But the new blu is an improvement in this regard, too.  Even though this isn't in HDR (being a standard BD and not a UHD), we can still see the benefits of the greater color range in the scans.  Look at the reflections in Sorvino's glasses, for instance, which are blocky and blown out on the old blu and more naturally faded on the new.  The grain is also softer than it would be on UHD, but it's much more filmic and better encoded this latest time around.  The color timing's different, too, something that really stands out comparing the now warmer interview segments.  I guess you could say they raised the reds.  Nyuk, nyuk
It's a nice little upgrade in the audio department, too, though still a bit disappointing.  The DVD and blu both gave us the option between the original mono and a modestly rejiggered 5.1 (plus a French dub on the DVD and French and Spanish on the BD).  Unfortunately, the old BD audio was as lossy as the DVD.  And this new version?  Well, the 5.1 is now lossless DTS-HD, but unfortunately the mono is still lossy.  Oh well.  At least it's a step in the right direction.

All three discs also offer optional English subtitles, with the 25/27th BDs also offering French and Spanish, and the 40th giving us both standard and HoH English subs.
Extras-wise, all editions are the same.  They're all mixed together into one, feature-length (about 75 minutes) documentary, which is a very satisfying, all-you-need-to-know look back at the film, primarily based on a very substantive interview with Beatty himself.  But it also involves interviews with Nicholson, Sorvino, Paramount execs... basically everybody except Keaton.  It's great.  There's also a "DVD trailer" (yes, even on the 40th edition), which is a newly made trailer that's actually pretty corny.  It's a small thing, but one can't help wondering what happened to the original theatrical trailer?
I originally ended this post asking Paramount for an updated 35th Anniversary edition next year. Beatty was making his big comeback film, his first film since 1998, so I said the two projects could surely drum up some glowing publicity and sales for each other. Well, maybe Paramount did the right thing by waiting. But ultimately they've done the right thing, putting this masterpiece back into print, and making it a superior edition to boot.  Hey, they even took my suggestion of putting the film on one BD50 instead of two BD25s (the 40th is still a 2-disc set, but now that second disc is just the extras), sparing us the hassle of switching discs mid-film.  I'm a little bummed about the lossy mono mix, but overall, this is better than I was expecting.  Maybe for the 50th, we can get a UHD with lossless mono and an interview with Diane Keaton?  Then we'd really be set and could focus back on the important work of raising the masses out of their accustomed lethargy and the subterranean fires that continue to smoulder.

The Definitive Taxi Driver

Martin Scorsese's masterpiece, Taxi Driver, has been restored in 4k and released as such on blu for a long time now.  But it's only available on an actual 4k Ultra HD disc now, exclusively as a part of the Columbia Classics Vol. 2 boxed set.  It seems like a surprisingly popular title to hide away in an over one hundred dollar collection, but most of the titles from Vol. 1 are still only available in 4k via that set, so I guess this is how it's going to be for a while.
Even 45 years later, Taxi Driver still digs under the skin to probe facets of human nature few other films have even thought to hint at, marking it as one of the indisputable pinnacles of cinematic art; and this is coming from someone who's seen The Killing of Satan.  Writer Paul Schrader and the Mean Streets team proved ideal collaborators, and all the other elements managed to fall just perfectly into place.  There's Bernard Herrmann's final score, NYC's inimitable personality, and all the brilliant supporting players including Albert Brooks, Young Frankenstein's Peter Boyle, a very young Jodie Foster and yes, that's Maniac's own Joe Spinell in that shot above.  People give Cybill Shepard a hard time, but every note she hits is as pitch perfect as everyone else's here.  Obviously, there's a huge pool of talent behind and in front of the camera here (it's easy to forget how powerful an actor DeNiro was when you see all the silly stuff he's committed himself to in recent years), but the planets still had to align just right to achieve these results.
Columbia Tri-Star first released Taxi Driver as an anamorphic widescreen, but completely barebones DVD in 1997.  A disappointing half step backwards for owners of Criterion's special edition laserdisc.  They had to've realized that was pretty paltry, and released a souped-up collector's edition in 1999.  It still didn't have the Criterion commentary, but it had an impressive documentary.  They improved on that further in 2007, with a 2-disc Collector's Edition, this time with a wealth of new extras.  Then it was HD time, and in 2011 came their first Taxi Driver blu-ray.  They released it again in 2013 as a surprisingly barebones "mastered in 4k edition."  It wasn't until 2016 when they really got it right with the 40th Anniversary 2-disc set, which had the 4k master in HD and all the previous extras, including for the first time since laserdisc, that Criterion commentary.  And that was the definitive edition, until now, as Sony has released an ultimate 3-disc set in their Columbia Classics Vol. 2 box, with the film finally on true 4k Ultra HD, plus standard blu and with all the past extras (yes, including the Criterion commentary again).  This is it, assuming they didn't screw anything up.
1) 1999 DVD; 2) 2016 BD; 3) 2021 BD; 4) 2021 UHD.
So yes, like I said before, this film has been restored in 4k for a long time.  In fact, the Columbia Classic book tells us the OCN got its 4k scan back in 2010, and this latest release is still presenting that same restoration, albeit newly color timed for HDR on the UHD.  But first we have a slightly pillar-boxed, distinctly pre-4k 1.75:1 DVD.  The resolution doesn't matter so much when we're talking about a transfer that's going to get mushed down to standard def anyway, and the framing really isn't too different from the properly matted 1.85:1 BDs and UHD (just a little off the left and a bit of extra headroom).  As far as DVDs go, it's fine except for the heavy red push over the whole picture.  So it's nice to see that get corrected along with the much clearer HD boost of the BDs, and again, the minor framing correction.  There's also a slight vertical stretching that gets fixed.  But for 1999, you could've done a lot worse.

Now, the 2016 and 2021 BDs are exactly the same, right down to the 27.1GB encode.  But what's new is the UHD.  Yes, it's the same root transfer.  And it's also true that the previous BD's encode kicks ass, finely capturing grain without the frequent macroblocking.  But look at any portion of any of the UHD screenshots, and the grain is so much clearer and more distinct.  In terms of detail, there's not a lot more to pull out, but in terms of the image matching the original film as opposed to a pixelated digitization, the UHD really succeeds.  The only question is if you'll notice it in motion.  Like, just how big is your TV?  But the difference is there when you look closely enough.
The DVD just features the original audio in 2.0, but it's got a bunch (6) of subtitle options, including English.  The 2016 blu replaces that audio with a DTS-HD 5.1 remix, and adds 11 lossy foreign dubs and offers 22 subtitle tracks, including standard English and English HoH.  So here's where the UHD gets good again.  It adds a couple more foreign dubs and subs, keeps the lossless 5.1 mix, but best of all, it brings back the original mono mix - lossless for the very first time.
So the DVD starts us off with a feature length documentary that talks to just about everybody: Deniro, Scorsese, Foster, Brooks, Schrader, Sheppard, etc.  It's pretty great, and honestly, if this was Taxi Driver's only special feature anywhere, that'd be pretty fine.  The DVD has a couple other odds and ends, including the trailer, storyboards and most interestingly, a 9-minute photo gallery with an uncredited audio commentary by the DVD producer who relays all the interesting anecdotes that didn't make it into the doc.

Jumping ahead to the 2016 doc and the 2021 set (which have all the same extras, except the UHD adds a 20th Anniversary rerelease trailer), we now have everything.  Well except for that photo gallery commentary, but all of those anecdotes wind up getting told, and often retold, in the other extras.  In fact, it's kind of a real problem.  With the Criterion commentary restored, we now have three commentaries, the doc, seven featurettes, an intro by Scorsese, a 40th Anniversary reunion panel, five galleries and two trailers, plus the notes in the book.  So we here the same stories repeated again and again.  By the third or fourth time, it's no longer cute to hear how DeNiro drove a taxi in NY for a week to prepare for the role and was recognized by another actor.  I just wish someone who was overseeing these releases paid attention to what was in these extras and edited how all the redundancy... because there is a wealth of great stuff here, talking to pretty much everybody, revisiting the shooting locations, go over Scorsese's entire career, and even a few weird odds and ends, like a featurette where they interview working NYC cab drivers or talk to Ed Koch.  Some of that's a little excessive, too.  All told, it's both terrific and a real slog, but at least erring towards too much beats erring towards too little.
If you want the best, this is it.  The increased resolution and HDR give us the most authentic picture yet, if you have the set-up to appreciate it.  And even if you don't, getting the original mono track back is a nice little coup for the purists.  Or if you need Icelandic subtitles... those are only on the new UHD.  It may be annoying that this is only available in the box, but fortunately, the whole set is more than worth it.  Could be a good Christmas present for yourself.

Dueling Blus: Maniac Cop

So we've had Maniac Cop 2 and 3 restored in 4k, first on blu, and now UHD.  But where's the original?  I mean, it is on blu with a few solid extras, which puts it ahead of plenty of other great horror titles I could name.  But still, it feels pretty meager to have the original cult classic lagging so far behind its sequels.  And what's up with the blus we do have?  There's a Synapse and an Arrow disc, both over ten years old now, and the original DVD from Elite, all with different extras.  If we're not going to get a swag UHD, what edition(s) should we get in 2021?
1988's Maniac Cop has a bit of a different tone from its more kinetic sequels.  All three are written by Larry Cohen and directed by William Lustig, and several of the stars, including Robert Z'Dar as the titular maniac cop, are carried over.  But where the sequels are more action-packed slashers, this is more of a mystery thriller.  The first film has the big question, "who is the maniac cop?" to hang its hat on, where the subsequent entries are pushed more into "he's back!" revenge motifs.  It's not even clear if there's anything supernatural meant to be going on in this film, or if maniac is just one bad, tough dude.  Whereas, in the sequels, he's a full-fledged monster with a skull face ultimately powered by voodoo magic.  Think of the difference between Jason Vorhees pre- and post-Jason Lives.
Budget probably plays a factor, too.  The sequels clearly have more money to play with, allowing Lustig to create some wild set-pieces with exploding buses and a full-fledged assault on a crowded police station.  But a film having to rely a bit more on the wits of Cohen's pen is never a bad thing.  And to be fair, this film climaxes with an awfully impressive stunt.  Luckily, though, the original film has more great ideas to lean on, making it - arguably - still the best.  And like all three, it's packed with terrific character actors, including cult fave Tom Atkins, Shaft himself Richard Roundtree, Sheree North, Laurene Landon, Cohen regular Jim Dixon and Bruce frikkin' Campbell, hot off of Evil Dead 2 just the year before.  Sam Raimi even has a bit part.  It's got an iconic theme and a practically can't miss premise based on the fraught tension between the comfort of police's role as protector and the terror of their unchecked power over of us.  ...I say "practically," because 1989's Psycho Cop went on to prove that no concept is infallible in the wrong hands.
So Elite originally released Maniac Cop on DVD in 1998, essentially a port of their laserdisc, replete with the same special features including a terrific audio commentary by Lustig, Cohen, Campbell and composer Jay Chattaway.  In 2006, Synapse reissued it on DVD (the first anamorphic option) with a few more extras and some audio remixes.  It naturally followed in 2011, then, when Synapse gave the film its HD debut on blu.  But for some reason the commentary disappeared!  Arrow released their blu a couple weeks later in the UK, also without the commentary, but with some of their own unique features.  But which edition is better?  Is there much of a difference?  Let's have a look.
1) 2006 Synapse DVD; 2) 2011 Synapse BD; 3) 2011 Arrow BD.
Okay, so at first glance, we seem to be using the same master across the board.  It's all the same 1.84:1 AR with the same color timing.  Although looking a little more carefully, we see the DVD is cropped a bit tighter (check out Victoria Catlin's button).  Obviously, the DVD is also blurrier than its HD counterparts.  But how do the two blu-rays compare?  That's what we've got to decide between now.  Well, with the same master, the difference is basically going to come down to the encode, if there's any noteworthy difference at all.  So let's take a look at some enlargements.
1) 2011 Synapse BD; 2) 2011 Arrow BD.
[A quick reminder, whenever I provide these enlargements: they're just meant as handy visual aids for quick reference, so you can easily see what I'm, talking about.  The full-sized, original screenshots are posted further above.  You're encouraged to click through them if you really want to examine them properly.]

Neither disc is exactly cutting edge.  Grain is a bit light and neither option is free of macro-blocking.  That said, Arrow clearly has the edge with less blocking a slightly more distinct grain.  In the second set of shots, we see more of the threads in Victoria's gown, which are smeared out in Synapse's disc.  In motion, especially on a modestly sized screen, the difference might be practically invisible.  But there is a difference, so if you're fishing for the best PQ available, Arrow does pull ahead.  Also, their contrast is slightly higher, which I personally prefer.

So Synapse's DVD has the original stereo mix, plus its new Dolby 5.1 and DTS-ES 6.1 remixes.  All three tracks are carried over to their blu, though now as lossless DTS-HD tracks.  Arrow doesn't bother with the remixes, which is A-Okay in my book, but does preserve the original stereo in lossless LPCM.  More significantly, it is the only disc with optional English subtitles.  So if you have a use for those, the advantage shifts further to Arrow.
The mayor, as only seen in the Japanese TV footage.
Before we make any final decisions, though, we've got to look at those extras.  I've already explained the situation with the commentary.  It's great and a real shame neither blu has it.  Hang onto your DVDs, folks.  But there's more than the commentary at stake here.  Synapse's DVD also had a new interview with Z'Dar, deleted scenes filmed for Japanese television (featuring Leo Rossi and Ken Lerner!), plus a couple trailers, TV and radio spots.  Synapse's blu keeps all of that except the commentary, and adds a few more juicy bits.  The highlights are new, on-camera interviews with Tom Atkins and actor/ stuntman Danny Hicks, but there's also a couple more trailers and a stills gallery.  If it wasn't for that commentary, it would be a nice upgrade.

Meanwhile, Arrow has also chucked the commentary.  It's also missing those deleted scenes, which is a real loss, plus a couple of the foreign trailers.  But it does have a couple trailers and TV spots.  And much more critically, it has its own collection of original extras.  It has its own, different interviews with Atkins (who also provides a brief, spoiler-y intro) and Z'Dar.  And the real highlights: a couple nice on-camera interviews with Larry Cohen and Laurene Landon.  You know, the Z'Dar and Atkins interview are pretty interchangeable, but they're not interviewed on the other discs at all.  Arrow's release also came with a 16-page booklet, a poster, and one of those windowed-slipboxes allowing for your choice of four reversible artwork covers.
Meanwhile, Lustig has been pretty candid about how unhappy he is with how Maniac Cop looks on disc (skip to 22:31), "Maniac Cop is a sore spot for me because the company that put it out really did not do a proper job with the film," He explained on the In the Seats With... podcast, adding, "that lousy Synapse blu-ray is the only thing that stands."  Specifically, he objects to the color timing.  "The simple problem is we shot the movie in August with a film that's supposed to take place in the winter in New York.  And if you look at the original negative, it's got the warmth of summer, and it's still bright.  It's got a lot of brightness to it.  And so it needed to be graded for what time of year it's supposed to be; and it's supposed to be a darker looking film.  Because at times you actually can see the partial make-up on the maniac cop's face.  It's horrifying.  Things like that should've been corrected.  You also see the wires that could've been removed... things like that that just is, to me, terrible.  I mean, look, remove the wires, it costs nothing.  And yet it was just left.  So to me, I'm looking at it as kind of a bad behind the scenes.  It's horrible because we put a lot of work - a lot of people, not just myself - a lot of the people who worked on that worked hard and cared about it, and now it was put out by an idiot."

So okay, sounds like a new edition is in order.  Actually, some of that corrective revisionism I'm happy to have missed out on.  But still, there's obviously plenty of room for improvement.  Unfortunately, any prospects along those lines aren't looking too bright.  Lustig explained, "recently, I inquired about the negative of Maniac Cop and was told, unfortunately, it's lost.  So it's not preserved."  Meaning: we're probably stuck with what we've got, at least for now.  Given that, what should we make out of our current options?  Well, just in terms of the ideal viewing experience, Arrow is the go-to disc (especially if subtitles are a concern).  But if you're invested in extras, it's hopelessly complicated.  You've still got to hang onto one of the old DVDs for the commentary, and even then... well, frustratingly, serious fans are going to want all three.  You kinda can't win.  But on the other hand, I've seen far worse releases, and if you're willing to collect multiple editions, it adds up to a fairly stacked special edition.  To put it in perspective, remember Psycho Cop fans are stuck tracking down barebones, grey market DVDs.

It's Here!! The Kindred

The Kindred is a title Synapse Films announced... I don't know, a decade ago? It's a crazy horror flick that fans have been asking for since DVDs began, and in 2008, Synapse did an interview with SGM, saying they'd just completed a new HD transfer, "the film looks amazing. I had the old video transfer on hand for inspiration to give me an idea of what NOT to make it look like (haha)… the film looks unbelievable now. It's much nastier than I remember, really. We haven't got any firm extras nailed down yet." But then it got stuck in legal limbo involving its producers. Over the years, Synapse has hinted that it was still coming, they just had to clear some paperwork hurdles; and here we are in 2015, fingers still crossed. But until that day comes (did I mention the fingers still being crossed?), it's not entirely, completely, totally unavailable. There's this budget release from Australia on JL, which came out in 2006.

Update 3/14/15 - 12/5/21: Wow! Did you guys give up hope? Well, it's finally here: Synapse's limited edition (3500 copies) special edition BD/ DVD combo-pack steelbook.  The Kindred finally looks like a proper movie!
I still remember The Kindred from the days late night cable TV sleepovers. This is the film that did for the watermelon what Psycho did for the shower... and, believe it or not, it's even the same writer! But no, don't let the killer watermelon talk throw you; this film isn't a Killer Tomatoes like film... it has more of a Stuart Gordon Lovecraftian tone. A scientist comes out of a coma and asks her son to go to her old house to destroy all of her notes and experiments she left behind. It doesn't wind up being that easy, of course, and he gets caught up in a world of evil scientists and fish monsters.
It's all rather well done, full of neat, squishy special effects, impressive set pieces, an effective score and co-stars Academy Aware winners Rod Steiger and Kim Hunter as well as 80s dream girl Amanda Pays. It's by the same team that made The Dorm That Dripped Blood and The Power, but this has a substantially bigger budget behind it and it shows. The quality's just on a level higher now. I mean, this movie has some flaws; it's still not on par with the truly great 80s horror classics like Hellraiser or A Nightmare On Elm St. It's talky and a little wooden at times, and the comic relief character who hangs around the entire film in a Hawaiian shirts is a bit much - but who cares? It's great! Even that Hawaiian shirt guy gets some cool moments by the end.
1) 2006 Aus JL DVD; 2) 2021 US Synapse DVD; 3) 2021 US Synapse BD.
Unfortunately, JL's transfer appears to be the one Synapse kept around to know what not to do... if not worse! Not only is it full-screen, soft and faded to the point of looking black and white (or brown and gray), but it's also single layer (Of course!) with a poor NTSC to PAL transfer, giving it some nasty interlacing. I honestly suspect the original Vestron Video tape release would look better than this. I thought the 1.29:1(!) framing might've been open matte based on a lot of the excess headroom in shots like the Amanda Pays one above, but no. They did frame a little high, but as we can plainly see in Synapse's 1.78:1 (why not 1.85?) restoration, they cut plenty off the sides.  So sure, any disc will look compared to JL's disaster, but you might be wondering how good could a BD taken from an HD master created in 2008 really look?  Well, I'm happy to report that Synapse threw out that master they talked about above and gave this film a fresh 4k scan (from the interpositive).  It looks beautiful; the colors are delightfully vivid and grain is carefully captured in the encode.

JL's DVD just has your basic Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track.  It's fine, considering how the image looks.  But of course, Synapse has remastered the audio, giving us a stronger pass on the original mix, plus an all new 5.1 remix, both in DTS-HD on the blu.  And they've added English HoH subs, too.
Of course, JL's DVD has no extras, not even a trailer.  But Synapse has the works.  Where to start?  How about a terrific, hour-long documentary with the directors, stars, effects artists, composer... pretty much everybody involved with the film who's still around.  It's a first rate retrospective that's fortunately also able to include behind-the-scenes footage captured during filming.  And if you didn't get enough of that footage glimpsed in the doc, there's a whole 20ish minutes of it included as a separate feature.  And there's a great commentary by the directors - at least one of whom remembers everything - that yes, does repeat some anecdotes from the doc, but also includes a lot of unique info and insight, making it all worth your time.  And yes, the trailer's here, as well as a couple TV spots, a lengthy stills gallery, and a second gallery of storyboards.  Synapse's steelbook comes in an attractive slipcover and includes a booklet with great notes by Michael Gingold, as well as an essay by Don May Jr. explaining why this film took fifteen years to release.  And there's even a CD of the film's soundtrack.
So these Synapse steelbooks are a bit pricey, but looking at all they've included, you can't say they don't give you a lot of value for your dollar.  All you could say for JL disc was that it was a quasi-legit, non-bootleg region free release that went for cheap, so anybody anywhere could at least watch the movie.  But watching this new release, I appreciate The Kindred like never before.  This movie's a real crowd pleaser, and now that it's back on the market and looking good, I hope it finally finds its audience with everyone too young to have caught it in its cable TV heyday.  If you've never seen it, yes, this is one you can risk a blind buy for; and I don't throw that suggestion around lightly.