Halloween (UK - BD RB)
Chris takes an early look at the new BD release of the John Carpenter classic...
In the small town of Haddonfield, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) finds her night of babysitting turns into a night of sheer terror as she comes face to face with the “Bogeyman”. As her friends are cut down one by one Laurie becomes the focus of attack turning one night into what seems like a lifetime… a lifetime about to be cut devastatingly short. (Taken from the PR.)
Okay, so I'm going to preface this review with the following admission: I am not the world's biggest Halloween fan. In fact, I'm willing to bet that I'm not even the biggest fan within a mile radius of my house. I don't know what it is, but I've never really been all that into the film or the Meyers character. Maybe it's because I never saw Halloween until I was in my twenties, by which time I had been desensitised to the point at which the film's rather tame violence and lack of genuine scares had little effect on me (and I'm a proper wimp when it comes to horror movies). Whatever the reason, each and every time I've watched it I've come away feeling somewhat underwhelmed.
Now I find this state of affairs as confusing as anyone else, especially given my love of most of John Carpenter's other works. I count The Thing, They Live and Big Trouble in Little China amongst my favourite films and have an appreciation for his entire body of work, from Assault on Precinct 13 and Christine, to Prince of Darkness and beyond. Hell, I even like Vampires as a (very) guilty pleasure! Now I don't want you to get the wrong idea, because I still like Halloween, I just don't love it. I fully appreciate its place in cinematic history, the slow-burning story, wonderful cinematography and the iconic score, but I simply don't connect with it emotionally. I'm not going to apologise for my opinion, because it is what it is, and those of you seeking validation for your love of the film are going to have to look elsewhere.
Anyway, as I don't have anything new or particularly insightful to say about the feature I'm going to save us all a lot of trouble and cut to the chase. In other words, here's the technical appraisal of the new 35th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray...
While I admit to not being particularly well-versed in the ins and outs of Halloween's numerous home video releases, I am given to understand that none of them has ever really come close to satisfying fans from a visual standpoint. I personally own the US THX DVD and the previous UK Blu-ray, both of which look fairly similar aside from the usual bump in quality associated with high-definition, and I always assumed that they were a fairly faithful representation of the original intent. Judging by the transfer on this new 35th Anniversary Edition that is not the case.
For this release Anchor Bay has enlisted Halloween's director of photography, Dean Cundey, to advise on the colour grading. This means that what you see on this disc represents the original intent for the first time ever, or at the very least the 'original intent' as Cundey sees it at this moment in time. The first thing that strikes you about this new 2.35:1 (1080/24p) image is how desaturated the daytime exterior shots look in comparison to the older Blu-ray. The feature was originally shot in the spring of 1978 and as a result it has never had the autumnal appearance associated with late October. While it's still fairly obvious that it wasn't shot at Halloween, the new grading certainly helps in giving the film a colder, overcast look that more convincingly sells the setting. The darker scenes have also been tweaked, pushing further towards cool blues than previous efforts, but the relative lack of colour means that the difference isn't as pronounced as in the brighter scenes.
As a casual viewer I also noticed differences in the contrast department. The older Anchor Bay is version of the film is 'hotter' than the new effort, which only serves to exacerbate the spring-for-autumn shooting issue. Contrast on this new edition is flatter, which further helps to sell the illusion. These changes to colour and contrast make the image appear slightly gloomier overall, which has the effect of partially obscuring certain details in the darker scenes towards the end of the film. We're not talking black crush here, but more of a reduction in overall brightness (in fact, the old Anchor Bay disc exhibits more crush than this release because of its boosted contrast).
Another positive aspect of the new scan from the camera negative is a slight elevation in detail levels. We're not talking a night and day difference between the old and new Blu-rays, but there is a definite improvement here, particularly in environmental elements and areas of intricate detail such as clothing. Image integrity is also very strong; I honestly didn't spot any film or digital artefacts while watching and the handful of out-of-focus scenes are down to the original photography rather than issues with the transfer. In all honesty I can't find much of anything to fault with this presentation - it's great!
While I have no qualms with the video the audio is a slightly different story. The previous Blu-ray included both LPCM 5.1 and Dolby Digital Mono soundtracks, but while this 35th Anniversary Edition goes one further with a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track the lossy mono track included on this release is not the original mono track. I can't say for certain, but it sounds very much like a down-mix of the 7.1 track complete with newly created sound effects. Quite why Anchor Bay did this is both a mystery and a disappointment, but the very fact that it's not the original mono makes its inclusion on the disc almost totally redundant.
As for the TrueHD 7.1 track, well it's not too bad, but you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Remixing mono tracks into multi-channel surround sound is always a bit of a hit and miss affair, but more so when the original source wasn't any great shakes to begin with. Again, while I'm not completely au fait with Halloween's storied history I'm aware of its low budget origins and understand that a fair bit of ADR was done in post. Remixed mono tracks tend to have a thin, almost 'canned' sound, and this track is no exception. Dialogue and effects generally remain rooted in the centre channel, but the quality of the dialogue can vary dramatically even within a single scene on account of the looping. Another problem with creating new mixes is one of adding elements that weren't part of the original sound design, which often sound incongruous. This is perfectly illustrated during the opening moments of the track as Loomis and the nurse drive to the sanatorium as a thunder storm rages. The newly-added effects stand out like a sore thumb and really pulled me out of the movie for a period of time. If it had that effect on me I can only imagine how annoying it would be to a hard-core Halloween fan.
On the plus side, well Carpenter's score - which is the real star of the track - sounds pretty great. By escaping the confines of the frontal array it envelopes the listener and is responsible for the bulk of the the film's atmosphere. There are a few moments when it is a little too dominant, somewhat overshadowing the other elements, but on the whole I am very happy with this aspect of the mix. The surrounds are also employed to deliver a subtle ambience, along with the 'stinger' effects during the jumpier moments, which works to good effect. While not terribly powerful, the subwoofer emits a reasonable amount of bass when called into action (the low notes of the synthesised score, for example).
Looking at reviews of the US set it seems that the majority of people are more forgiving of the issues I've mentioned, but I can't in good conscience award top honours to a disc with what I feel are some significant audio inadequacies. Halloween sounds far from bad, but the newly-added effects are more of a distraction than anything else and the omission of the original mono track - something that is actually used as a selling point for the disc - is either a fairly major technical blunder or a case of contempt for the consumer. Either way it cost the disc points in this area.
The Blu-ray includes a modest collection of bonus material that's likely to feel quite familiar to long-time fans, even if some of it is new. A brief list of what you can find on the disc follows, along with a slightly more in-depth exploration below.
- Audio Commentary by John Carpenter and Star Jamie Lee Curtis
- The Night She Came Home
- On Location: 25 Years Later
- TV Version Footage
- TV Spots
- Radio Spots
The extras begin with a brand new commentary from Carpenter and Curtis, which covers most of the expected bases. Curtis' recollection of the shoot is most impressive, which in turn prompts Carpenter to remember things he might otherwise have neglected to mention. Shot by Kelly Curtis and her husband, 'The Night She Came Home' documentary follows Jamie as she makes a rare appearance on the convention circuit to raise money for charity. It looks like an exhausting process, as the actress spends many hours signing autographs, posing for photos and chatting to the hundreds of fans who visit over the course of the event. 'On Location: 25 Years Later' is a short featurette that revisits the original shooting locations. It includes interview footage with some of the cast and crew and even shows P.J. Soles visiting a site with her daughter and a friend. The disc also includes footage from the TV version of the movie, which actually made for pretty interesting viewing as I'd not previously seen it. The usual trailers, TV spots and radio spots are welcome, if not particularly exciting.
We've already established that I don't revere Halloween to the same extent as many of my peers (by which I mean reviewers on Blu-ray websites), but I appreciate its place in genre history and it's still a solid entry in the Carpenter catalogue. I would hope that people reading this review are sensible enough to separate my opinion from fact, and in no way am I denigrating those who hold it as the greatest horror film of all time (as I know many people do). To each his own and all that...
As to whether this release is worth buying, I'd say that depends on your opinion of the feature itself and whether or not you already own the previous Blu-ray. Halloween fans will absolutely want to get their hands on it for the new transfer, audio shortfalls and all, while those new to the film probably won't see what all the fuss is about when it comes to the audio changes anyway. If you're a casual viewer who already owns the older Blu-ray I'm not so sure the upgrade is worth the money. It's a real pity that the genuine original mono track is missing from the disc, because if it was here we'd be looking at a truly definitive release of the film. As it stands its absence ensures that there's still an opportunity for a 40th Anniversary re-release...
* Note: The images below 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 Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 21st October 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 7.1 English, Dolby Digital Mono English
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Extras: Audio Commentary, Documentary, Featurette, Deleted Scenes, Trailer, TV Spots
Easter Egg: No
Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Loomis, P.J. Soles, Charles Cyphers, Kyle Richards, Brian Andrews,
Length: 91 minutes
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