Don't Look Now (UK - BD RB)
Marcus chases down a short person in a red jacket and gets an HD DNR fright...
After the death of their daughter, John and Christine Baxter travel to Venice to deal with their grief and for John to get back to work restoring a church. Here, Christine meets two sisters and one of them claims to be clairvoyant and informs Christine that she’s seen her daughter (despite being blind) and more pressingly she tells her that John must leave Venice or he will die here.
John is unwilling to accept this advice and it’s not until Christine rushes back to England to see their young son—who’s had a minor accident—that John's experience of Venice begins to change. After a near death experience, believing he’s seen his wife travelling with the sisters downriver and seeing visions of what could be his little girl from beyond the grave, John’s fate is revealed.
Well they sure don’t make ‘em like Don’t Look Now anymore do they? Nicolas Roeg’s film weaves a tale of mystery, premonition, coincidence, spiritualism and just plain oddity and with an absolutely fantastic lead performance from Donald Sutherland, whose every mannerism seems important. The uncomfortable sense of dread this film generates is stellar work and even though the surface level of the story is utterly compelling it’s the almost unexplainable level that's happening underneath the surface or within the viewer that makes Don’t Look Now feel like something really special.
The premonition aspect is utterly intriguing but it’s been far too long since I last saw Don’t Look Now to have a firm grasp on what I think is going on for this review (and my feeling on it seem to change on every viewing). It’s certainly one of those films that’s visuals—and more so the feelings they generate—have stuck with me but due to its constant appearance in countdown clip shows, my return to the movie got delayed. Watching it here in many ways was like watching it for the first time. I knew the beats, I knew the big moments but those small moments that are packed with ideas, suggestions and strangeness really shone for me here and now I feel inclined to watch it again and process my thoughts on the film after being away from it for so long.
That said, Don’t Look Now really is a masterpiece of cinema. It’s almost the poster boy of what’s missing from most modern movies. Putting the parts in the audiences hands and leaving it up to them to figure out is almost a forgotten art and Don’t Look Now makes you think beyond the simple and pushes you towards delving into someplace else to find your own answers. It’s quite simply a movie I could talk about for hours, so let’s see how this release has fared in all its HD glory shall we?
Firstly let’s highlight what we have to deal with. Don’t Look Now is visually stunning but it’s never looked all that great on home release. Grain has always been ripe, it’s not the sharpest of films and it’s nearly forty years old, so early seventies filmmaking is always going to appear dated for the most part anyway. So straight away this Blu-ray transfer feels like a vast improvement. The red of the little girl’s coat literally jumps off the screen against the green backdrop and the image looks grain free and... RECORD SCRATCH. Wait a minute, grain free? That must mean... D.N.R.
Now the argument for and against digital noise reduction is a big one in the world of HD upgrades and Don’t Look Now could well become another title to join the discussions. Generally speaking the DNR’d scenes look to someone who’s not all that fussed about the presentation of a film they like to be a good thing. The image is quite striking when compared to previous releases, especially in regards to the vibrancy of the colours but on closer inspection and the realisation that any and all edges are softer than butter, colours block together like a mosaic and in the darker scenes the image is a wash of colours with no real definition at all, it’s hard to stick to DNR’s side of the fight. The other oddity here is there are still scenes packed full of grain. In fact the inconsistency towards what to scrub and what not to scrub seems a little random to me.
As a whole the Don’t Look Now transfer is a chaotic mixture of different looks. When it looks good, it’s really does look great, some of the daytime Venice scenes are fantastic, with even the DNR shots offering up some highlights but when it looks bad, it’s looks awful. The scenes where John and Christine stop off at the church looks murky and some of the darker scenes in and around the couples hotel room look like a blur of bleeding colours sometimes, just pause some of those scenes and all of the issues will become apparent. I can sometimes look like the image has been painted onto the screen.
Don’t Look Now’s Blu-ray release is a tough one to call. I did think most of the movie looked noticeably better than the film has looked previously, but when you delve deeper its lack of detail and sharpness and DNR heavy 'cleaning' makes for an odd viewing experience and its inconsistent approach to grain makes it even more of a head-scratcher.
The two-channel LPCM mono track is the best thing about the upgrade. The mix still suffers the odd muffled moment and those piercing shrieks from the odd scream but generally speaking the film has never sounded so clear. The dialogue is crisp and despite the simplicity of the track, it offers up quite a bit of atmosphere. The wonderful score also has a strong presence and the tiniest of delicate moments are strong in the track.
The 'Introduction from Dan Jones' (07:12 SD) is a nice first step into the movie and the commentary with Nicholas Roeg (with critic Adam Smith) is also a great companion piece. The director discusses his feelings on every element of the film, his influences, his intentions and of course the making of the movie. Any fan of the film should enjoy every second of this.
‘Looking Back’ (19:31 SD) is a great documentary, despite having nothing from Sutherland or Christie. Roeg’s input is well paced and informative and makes the short documentary feel quite personal rather than typical
The Danny Boyle ‘Compressed Version of Don’t Look Now’ (04:31 SD) is the tribute put together for the BAFTA award and the ‘Nothing as it Seems’ (15:37 SD) is a fantastic look at the psychological themes of the film and how humans respond to grief and we also get the trailer (02:32 SD) as well
In the interviews section is an interview with Danny Boyle (15:10 SD) which is the director talking fondly and intelligently about Don’t Look Now’s impact on him and the world cinema (and there’s also a very interesting angle about what the World Wars did to us as a species). It’s a great addition to the disc and I think I could watch Danny Boyle talk about stamps and end up liking them more. There are also interviews with screenwriter and producer Allan Scott (14:31 SD), Cinematographer Tony Richmond (23:48 SD) and finally some input from Donald Sutherland (23:14 SD). All of the interviews fill out the story of the making of the film in different ways and all make up for the lack of retrospective making of that the film deserves.
Don’t Look Now is one of those movies that feels unlike anything else. It holds you in its grasp for the entire runtime and offers you up angles on creepy and everyday situations its own unique way, providing an experience that demands a response. The Blu-ray release for this classic will no doubt spark much discussion for its visuals but the audio here is an impressive upgrade as are the selection of features, even if they are all in standard definition.
Should you buy it? Maybe, but you might want to try a rental first to see just how much of the good elements outweigh your feelings on the weaker ones.
* Note: The below 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.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 4th July 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: LPCM 2.0 English
Extras: Commentary, Documentaries, Interviews, Introduction, Compressed version by Danny Boyle
Easter Egg: No
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Cast: Donald Sutherland Julie Christie
Length: 110 minutes
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