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Feature


At the end of his last battle with the unnameable evil of the demon spawn, Deadites, Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) is accidentally thrown back in time to Arthurian Medieval England. Ash’s timing is expectedly bad, as a battle between King Arthur and Henry the Red is stewing among the awakening of the Deadites’ evil. Mistaken for one of Henry’s men, Ash is taken back to Camelot to be executed, but he battles his way out of an execution and makes clear his innocence. Arthur and his sages agree to help Ash return to his own time. Now labelled ‘The Chosen One,’ he is sent retrieve the Necronomicon, which possesses the power to save the kingdom and send him home. Now if only he could remember those secret words…

Hey, everybody, do you like Army of Darkness? I certainly like Army of Darkness. Great, now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about Shout Factory’s new ‘ultimate’ Blu-ray collection.

 Army of Darkness: International Cut (4K)

 Army of Darkness: Director's Cut

 Army of Darkness: Theatrical Cut

 Army of Darkness: Universal Theatrical Cut

 Army of Darkness: MGM DC DVD

Video


Did you know that Army of Darkness has ‘enjoyed’ a long and winding road on digital home video? That was sarcasm – even your Great Aunt Flo makes jokes about how many versions of this particular movie have been released on DVD. I’m not sure if any other copyright protected film has ever seen so many official home video releases. Anchor Bay Studios alone released the film six times between the US and the UK, Universal Studios released a non-anamorphic and ‘Screwhead’ editions, but all of them were secondary to the vastly superior and coveted MGM Hong Kong R3 Director’s Cut (DC) release. Universal put out a Theatrical Cut (TC) HD DVD and Blu-ray (also under the Screwhead header). The TC also appeared on a French disc from Filmedia. British studio Optimum Releasing tried to up the ante by including a PAL version of MGM’s DC transfer on a DVD alongside their TC HD release, but it was German company Koch Media that finally put the TC and the DC on Blu-ray. Then they sweetened the pot with the International Cut (IC) and an SD version of the slightly different television cut (TVC). There was a rumour that Koch couldn’t find an original source for the DC and that they had to fill in the cracks with upconverted shots from MGM’s SD master, but this was later deemed inaccurate. Aussie company ViaVision Entertainment reportedly used the same DC transfer for their Blu-ray release.

On paper, Scream Factory’s new Ultimate Edition Blu-ray collection is similar to Koch’s, mainly because both feature all four known versions of the film. We can probably assume that their DC and TC presentations are newish versions of old transfers, but the press materials do claim that the IC is a complete 4K rescan of the original inter-positive. All three are presented in full 1080p video and framed at 1.78:1, situating them between the 1.66:1 and 1.85:1 aspect ratios of other releases. I’ve done my best to supply a complete picture of the collection here by including caps from the three different HD discs (there’s no real point including the TVC, since it is nowhere near HD quality), as well as additional images from the Screwhead disc and the MGM DVD (I apologize that the images are slightly off – I had a lot of trouble timing the frames on the Scream Factory discs). I do not have access to the Koch or ViaVision releases, unfortunately. It is possible that the quality is entirely comparable, but I will not be covering the possibilities here.

 Army of Darkness: International Cut (4K)

 Army of Darkness: Director's Cut

 Army of Darkness: Theatrical Cut

 Army of Darkness: Universal Theatrical Cut

 Army of Darkness: MGM DC DVD
I’ll start with the IC, because it is the one that Scream Factory put the most love into. I’m sure readers can tell just by looking at the screen caps on this page that it is the darkest of the three transfers. It also features some of the softest details alongside the most filmic look. Some viewers might consider this a problem, but I actually assume that this is the closest to what the movie looked like during its theatrical release (note that Sam Raimi and cinematographer Bill Pope did not supervise any of the DVD or Blu-ray releases). The darkness is nowhere near as prevalent and obnoxious as Anchor Bay’s old ‘bootleg’ DC and, despite some minor compression noise (that might qualify as CRT noise), there are very few signs of digital tinkering. The details are still tight and rarely effected by the aforementioned darkness without any of the over-sharpening effects seen on the other cuts.

The DC – my preferred version – is a step down, but still a fine effort. It is the bluest and coolest of the three cuts, which works nicely for the night-set sequences, but also robs the daylight scenes of some of their vivid yellows and reshades the reds as a bit purple. Though detail levels aren’t as consistent as the ones seen on the 4K IC, there are more crisp moments and very little of the edge enhancement seen on the even sharper TC. In addition, viewers that find the IC transfer too dark and grainy should be happy with the slightly lighter and cleaner image. I’m willing to concede that the brighter highlights and more even-handed gamma may be preferable, but find the cleanliness suspicious. We’re not talking Screwhead edition levels of DNR application or even particularly obvious noise scrubbing, but there’s definitely a lack of texture in some scenes/shots that is a teeny bit disconcerting, given the degree of grit inherent in the original material. Still, this is a mostly fantastic transfer and a notable improvement over the already nice-looking HK DVD (which, as you can see from the comparison caps, has almost the exact same colour-timing and gamma rate as its HD counterpart) and not a disappointment. Completists should be happy to know that this is the ‘complete’ director’s cut, including the 17 or so seconds of frames missing from Anchor Bay’s cobbled version.

 Army of Darkness: International Cut (4K)

 Army of Darkness: Director's Cut

 Army of Darkness: Theatrical Cut

 Army of Darkness: Universal Theatrical Cut

 Army of Darkness: MGM DC DVD
When I reviewed the Screwhead Blu-ray, I was still pretty new to HD video and mistakenly hung many of its problems on the quality of the original footage, which does have built-in grain inconsistencies thanks to process affects and blue screen layers. The reality is that it was over-sharped, rife with CRT noise, and gooped-up with smudgy details. I originally read that Shout was using a ‘pre-digital tinkering’ version of the Universal transfer, but the lack of smudgy textures and revolting edge enhancement clearly aren’t the only differences – once again, there are key discrepancies in colour-timing and gamma levels between the two transfers. I’ve read rumours that Scream Factory ‘Frankensteined’ their TC from pieces of their 4K IC, but there are similar colour and brightness discrepancies there too. Also note that this TC and the Screwhead release are missing the same a bits of footage (I hate to admit that I never noticed). Scream Factory has acknowledged the problem via costumer service emails: Quote: In the past few days, thanks to Army of Darkness super fans, it has come to our attention that there is a scene missing from the theatrical cut in our new Blu-Ray release of the film. We wanted to reach out and thank everyone who wrote us about the issue and for your patience while we've worked on a resolution. We can now announce that a replacement disc correcting the issue will be ready by early November. We'll have more information about the details of this replacement program soon.
It’s possible that the problem has already been solved as of this writing.

Audio


All three HD versions of the movie in this set include uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and 5.1 soundtracks. Army of Darkness was made during the early days of discrete digital audio. It was released in 2.0 Dolby SR analogue (with non-discrete rear and center channel sound) less than a year after the debut of Dolby’s digital, AC-3-based 5.1 system (Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, 1992) and less than six months before the debut of DTS’ disc-based digital 5.1 system (Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. 1993). This means that the 2.0 tracks – presented uncompressed audio for the first time anywhere – are the more accurate portrayals of the original theatrical mix. However, the TC’s 5.1 remix, which first premiered on various Anchor Bay DVDs (I believe mixed by Chance Digital?), is a relatively modest effort that respects Lance Brown and Alan Howarth’s original sound design. There aren’t a lot of affected or artificial-sounding surround additions (some of the Deadite screams are sometimes spread too widely) and the more distinctly (though not perfectly) separated center channel dialogue is a plus. The various 2.0 tracks do have a small advantage in terms of the consistency and clarity of Joseph LoDuca musical soundtrack (Danny Elfman composed the title theme only). The LFE additions are a bit clunky. I’m assuming that the uncompressed 5.1 DC mixes were borrowed from Koch’s release, who, in turn, probably made them using tracks from MGM. The IC’s ‘new’ 5.1 track matches the efforts of the other two tracks (it was probably culled from them).

 Army of Darkness: International Cut (4K)

 Army of Darkness: Director's Cut

 Army of Darkness: Theatrical Cut

 Army of Darkness: Universal Theatrical Cut

 Army of Darkness: MGM DC DVD

Extras


Disc One – Theatrical Version

:
  • Medieval Times: The Making Of Army Of Darkness (1:37:00, HD) – This all-new and extensive behind-the-scenes documentary (produced by Red Shirt Production) includes updated interviews with star & co-producer Bruce Campbell, director of photography Bill Pope, editor Bob Murawski, production designer Anthony Tremblay, composer Joseph LoDuca, costume designer Ida Gearon, KNB EFX staff Howard Berger, Robert Kurtzman & Greg Nicotero, additional effects artist Tony Gardner, ‘Pit Bitch’ performer and effects artist William Bryan, mechanical effects artist Gary Jones, first assistant director John Cameron, visual effects supervisor William Mesa, stunt coordinator Christopher Doyle, and actors Marcus Gilbert, Ted Raimi, Timothy Quill, Richard Grove, Bill Moseley, Patricia Tallman and Angela Featherstone. Of course, there is overlapping information found in the other (and older) supplements and Raimi’s lack of participation is disappointing, but there are a few otherwise untold anecdotes, points-of-view, and a fair share of on-set video footage that hasn’t been seen on other DVD/Blu-rays.
  • Original director’s cut ending (4:40, HD)
  • Original, unused opening with optional commentary from Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell (3:00, HD version of video quality footage)
  • Three deleted/extended scenes with optional commentary from Raimi and Campbell (11:10, HD version of video quality footage) – most of this stuff can be seen on disc three’s television version.
  • US trailer
  • TV spots
  • Home video promo

Disc Two – Director's Cut

:
  • Audio Commentary with director Sam Raimi, actor Bruce Campbell, and co-writer Ivan Raimi –This is the same track that was recorded for Anchor Bay’s Limited Edition and has shown up on every single version they’ve ever released.
  • On-set footage compilation (4:40, SD) – Here’s a small clip of raw video from on set.
  • Behind-the-scenes footage from KNB EFX (53:50, SD) – And here’s even more raw video footage; this time recorded by the KNB guys (and sometimes Raimi). Bits and pieces of this have appeared on documentaries and special features for years, but this is the first time all of it has been compiled in one place.
  • Vintage Creating The Deadites Featurette (21:30, HD) – This KNB EFX featurette is hosted by Robert Kurtzman and Greg Nicotero. It originally appeared on Universal’s Screwhead release.
  • Vintage ‘Making Of’ EPK (4:50, SD)
  • Extended interview clips from the EPK with Raimi, Campbell, and Tapert

Disc Three – International Cut

:
  • Television Version With Additional Footage (1:33:00, SD 1.33:1, DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0) – This is how I was originally introduced to the movie as a teenager and it’s nice to revisit the nostalgia, despite the subpar presentation. For a complete list of the differences between the TC and the TVC, see this MovieCensorship.com link.
  • International trailer
  • New still galleries, including production designer Anthony Tremblay’s illustrations, visual effects supervisor William Mesa’s shot list and personal photos, and special effects tests/prop design specs/photos from make-up artist Tony Gardner and KNB EFX, Inc.
  • New still gallery of props and photos from super fan Dennis Carter Jr.’s collection
  • New storyboards for deleted/alternate scenes
  • The Men Behind The Army (19:00, SD) – This look at the work of KNB EFX’s part in the film originally appeared on Anchor Bay’s limited edition DVD. It includes then-modern interviews with Kurtzman, Nicotero, and Howard Berger, alongside video footage from KNB’s studio and the set


 Army of Darkness: International Cut (4K)

 Army of Darkness: Director's Cut

 Army of Darkness: Theatrical Cut

 Army of Darkness: Universal Theatrical Cut

 Army of Darkness: MGM DC DVD

Overall


I imagine plenty of fans were worried that Scream Factory would drop the ball on this release. Army of Darkness has suffered a convoluted home video history and the studio has recycled bad Universal HD transfers in the past. Rest assured, though, because there is real love in this nearly exhaustive, three-disc release, including superior versions of the theatrical and director’s cut transfers (without making a direct comparison, they appear to at least match the German release from Koch) and a 4K remaster of the international cut (which is basically an extended variation on the theatrical cut, including the S-Mart ending). There are loads of extras, both new and old, and even the complete television version of the film in standard definition. This is truly the definitive release of Army of Darkness…at least until someone finds more deleted footage in a closet somewhere.

 Army of Darkness: International Cut (4K)

 Army of Darkness: Director's Cut

 Army of Darkness: Theatrical Cut

 Army of Darkness: Universal Theatrical Cut

 Army of Darkness: MGM DC DVD
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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