Halloween: 35th Anniversary Edition (US - BD RA)
Gabe has updated the review with HD comparison images from both releases...
After brutally murdering his sister fifteen years ago, Michael Myers has returned to his hometown of Haddonfield. It's Halloween night and Michael is hungry for the blood of the town's teenagers, left alone to watch over the children. But he hasn't come to Haddonfield alone – his former psychiatrist, Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance), is hot on his trail and determined to stop him.
So, Anchor Bay is releasing their default flagship title, Halloween, on home video yet again. Following something like six or seven total digital format releases from this one company alone, I’m sure most of us are approaching this release with trepidation, assuming that the 35th Anniversary is merely a thinly veiled excuse to squeeze more money from an already bone-dry movie. Anchor Bay also sent me this screener disc with very little time to review it before its release date (a particularly busy release date at that), so I’m going to assume all the people reading this are already aware that Halloween is a genre re-defining, expertly-crafted masterpiece of minimalism and suspense and just cut to the quick…
At one time it was considered a victory to have Halloween available in widescreen. An entire generation was forced to experience Carpenter’s masterful use of the 2.35:1 in 1.33:1 and was left confused when scary music signified Michael Myers entering from an edge of a screen they couldn’t see in pan & scan. Anchor Bay’s first DVD, released in 1997, was non-anamorphic – an issue they corrected in 1999 when they released their THX-certified version (complete with a 5.1 remix, which I’ll get to in a minute). This version was recycled through various ‘special’ and ‘limited’ editions until they remastered the footage as part of their Divimax series in 2005. The Divimax version was supposedly digitally mastered from the original negative, but was colour-corrected without input from cinematographer Dean Cundey. The result was pretty controversial and, when it came time to release Halloween to cash-in on Rob Zombie’s remake, Anchor Bay went back to the THX transfer. Then, when Anchor Bay first entered the Blu-ray market, they put out a vaguely disappointing transfer that, once again, used the non-Cundey-approved colour timing.
This time, Anchor Bay/Starz did get Cundey to participate (they even took a picture to prove it), which means that we can assume that the colour-timing will be based on the original cinematographer’s intent. Or at least his intent at the time of the re-mastering process. Because we all know artists are…temperamental (points at the original French Connection Blu-ray). The differences here are subtler than I expected, but Cundey has certainly amped-up the saturation during the night-set scenes, which, of course, make up the bulk of the film. White levels aren’t exactly bursting with colour, but they are certainly bluer, and the orange bits now feature a healthy, vibrant glow. Other primary/secondary hues are also generally poppier without any notable bleeding or macro blocking effects. Cundey’s influence is actually felt more during the mostly daylight-set first act. These sequences were over-brightened on the 2007 disc, leading to blown-out highlights and a generally warm, sun-baked quality. Now, these scenes have been adjusted to appear significantly cooler (though not bluish) and more overcast. The greens are richer and the blacks deeper, but all of those sunny tints have been desaturated and the overall image has been darkened.
This is where I imagine controversy may come in, because, not only are these scenes darker, but they feature noticeably higher contrast levels. The contrast helps with the mood, but some viewers may be bothered by some of the slightly crushed details. For example: on the ’07 disc, you can actually see The Shape’s mask behind the wheel of the car that passes Laurie and her friends, but, on the ’13 disc his face is more or less a grey blur. Contrast increase and crush aside, the majority of details are stronger, thanks to a better scan and a better bitrate. There isn’t exactly a night & day difference between this disc and the old one in terms of detail, but there is an increase in sharpness and complexity that is comparable to the upgrade between AB’s first Evil Dead II Blu-ray and Lionsgate’s 2011 re-release. The tightened details aren’t met with much edge enhancement, either. The anamorphic lenses make for some chromatic aberration around the edges of the frame, but these are natural artefacts, not print damage. Grain levels on this re-master are finer and more natural-looking than the 2007 release, where the rougher sequences appeared more muddy and the noisier pieces looked more like telecine effects than actual film grain.
Remixing Halloween from its original mono to 5.1 has always been a bit of a fool’s errand, but the practice has certainly given Carpenter’s score an edge. The problem is that the resituating of the film’s very basic, low-budget, analogue sounds among stereo and surround channels will always sounded artificial. Anchor Bay’s 1999 DVD marked the first 5.1 remix, which was mixed by Chance Digital and, if memory serves, included some really rough directional transitions and digital-sounding sound effects that weren’t part of the original mix. The Divimax and Blu-ray remixes were more of the same. The previous Blu-ray featured a lossless PCM version of the 5.1 track (4.6 Mbps) and a compressed Dolby Digital (192 Kbps) version of the original mono track. This Blu-ray ups the ante on the remix a bit with a 7.1, uncompressed Dolby TrueHD (96kHz, 24-bit) track, but includes the same lossy Dolby Digital mono track (still 192kbps). New or not, there’s little difference I can hear between the actual mixing on both tracks. The bulk of the dialogue and incidental effects are still stuck mostly in the center channel, while the music and some spooky ambience are tossed into the stereo/surround tracks. Both tracks have minor inconsistencies in dialogue clarity/volume, sometimes within a single scene – a subtle problem usually shared with other releases, leading me to assume that there was quite a bit of ADR work used, especially during the location shoots.
The effects work flutters between somewhat flat but natural sounds and crystal clear but ‘canned’ sounds, which would likely mark the difference between the original tracks and the stuff added to fill out the 5.1/7.1 speaker set. The prime example of unnecessary tampering comes early in the film, when Loomis is driven through a thunderstorm to pick up Myers. Here, the rain and storm effects are mixed awkwardly between the flatter source material, which, again, settles mostly in the center, and the obvious digital effects that are wrapped throughout the side and rear speakers. Another issue I’ve had with every 5.1 mix, including this one, is the loudness of Michael’s portentous breathing just before the end credits roll. On the original tracks it was subtle enough to miss entirely, but all the remixes bring it to the forefront of the mix. But here’s the problem – the effects inaccuracies sound generally the same on the mono track, especially the thunder sound effects. I remember people claiming that the replacement effects from the 20th anniversary’s 5.1 remix had been put into the mono mix as well, which would mean that both Blu-rays quite possibly contain altered mono tracks. Unfortunately, I’m not enough of a pack rat to have the old DVDs and VHS copies for comparison purposes. I can say for certain that the bigger bit-rate does make a difference for the music in particular. Carpenter’s keyboards score is strong, rich, warm, et cetera, and the 7.1 spread does sound slightly wider than the 5.1 track.
The extras begin with a brand new commentary track with writer/director John Carpenter and star Jamie Lee Curtis. I know what you’re thinking, ‘wasn’t there already a Carpenter & Curtis commentary that also featured co-writer/producer Debra Hill?’ Yes, there was – it was part of the 25th anniversary DVD and the first Blu-ray release and it was pretty great. This one is mostly more of the same, covering the all of the behind-the-scenes anecdotes you’ve heard a dozen times before, but it’s different enough to offer a new experience, largely due to Curtis’ participation. Again, if memory serves, Carpenter and Hill were a little more in control of the old track, while she’s more or less nonstop this time out. Her memory is also very sharp, which helps spur Carpenter to recall a handful of new stories. I could’ve done without her jabs at ‘modern movies’ and would’ve loved if they included the older track for comparison’s sake, but there’s no good reason to complain.
The new extras continue with The Night She Came Home, an interview/featurette with Jamie Lee Curtis (59:40, HD), shot by Jaime’s sister, Kelly Curtis (who appeared in Michele Soavi’s The Sect) and her husband John Marsh. This very personable and charming mini-documentary follows the actress to her appearance at a Halloween-themed, fan-fueled fundraiser (part of Horror Hound’s convention circuit). It is apparently her first fan signing. The whole process looks exhausting. The only other featurette-type extra is On Location – 25 Years Later (10:30, SD), a look at the film’s real-life locations that was also included on the older DVDs. It’s disappointing that Anchor Bay didn’t see fit to include their own Halloween: 25 Years of Terror or Halloween: A Cut Above The Rest or any of the half dozen other Halloween documentaries (including, of course, my buddy Phil Nobile, Jr’s Halloween: The Inside Story). However, unlike the previous Blu-ray, this one does have the footage from the longer TV cut of the film and in decent-looking 2.35:1 HD video (10:50). The extras are rounded out with a trailer, TV spots, and radio spots.
Do you really need another copy of Halloween on home video? Unfortunately, I’m kinda leaning towards ‘yes.’ This 35th Anniversary release (I can only imagine there will be a new one for the 40th Anniversary!) features a definitively better overall video presentation, specifically in terms of details and colour-timing, though the colour changes made to the daylight scenes may lead to some arguments among purists. I’m also suspicious that the mono track is really just a single channel version of the remix (at least during the thunderstorm sequence). This isn’t enough to deter me from recommending this version, but discerning Halloween aficionados should beware (and those with old VHS copies should tell me if I’m wrong). The extras are relatively thin, but do include a pleasant new commentary track with Carpenter and Curtis, a sweet featurette about Curtis’ time signing autographs, and the scenes from the TV version of the film in full HD.
* Note: The images on this page were taken from the this 35th Anniversary release (top) and Anchor Bay's original release (bottom). The full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of each transfer. Thanks to Jonathan for the caps!
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 24th September 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 7.1 and 2.0 Mono English
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Director and Star Commentary, The Night She Came Home, On Location – 25 Years Later, Scenes From the TV Version, Trailer, TV Spots, Radio Spots
Easter Egg: No
Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, P. J. Soles, Nancy Loomis
Length: 91 minutes
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