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 Like most of the Fox Blu-ray screeners I get, this one arrived the day of release. Because there was already some controversy stirring over the image quality, I’ve decided to skip a lengthy review in order to get my take on the transfer live as soon as possible.

Feature


While traveling in the Deep South, Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier), a black Philadelphia detective, becomes embroiled in the murder investigation of a prominent businessman when he is first accused of the crime and then asked to solve, it in spite of the efforts of the bigoted town police chief, Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger). They're forced to work together in a desperate race against time to discover the shocking truth. (from MGM’s official synopsis)

 In the Heat of the Night
Norman Jewison’s In the Heat of the Night is among the most important American films ever made, though more for social reasons than its cinematic innovation. It was made in the years following the passage of the Civil Rights Act and brought the continuingly rocky Southern race relations to the attention of the rest of the country. Stirling Silliphant’s screenplay, based on John Ball’s novel, is, at its base, a simple, character driven story that follows the tropes and structural momentum of a murder mystery. The police procedural and mismatched partnership aspects hadn’t been done to death at the time, either, which likely made material feel fresh to 1967 audiences. In the intervening years, In the Heat of the Night spawned two sequels – They Call Me Mister Tibbs! (1970) and The Organization (1971) – and a television series that ran from 1988 to 1995, turning that freshness into a cinematic convention. The more ‘revolutionary’ aspects of the film, specifically the post-Jim Crow race relations, are not hidden by any stretch of the imagination, they’re just delivered in a relatively comfortable, pulp crime package that made the harsher truths easier to swallow. The technical direction is more dynamic than I remember, predicating the run-and-gun, handheld look that proliferated throughout the following decade. Jewison’s intimate, understated camerawork must’ve been something of a shock and this energetic style seems the ideal way to deliver such incendiary subject matter.  

 In the Heat of the Night

Video


Some readers may have heard bad things about this particular 1080p transfer. Others may have bought the disc and experienced it for themselves. Fox/MGM has kind of dropped the ball here. The damage isn’t outrageous – I’ve seen many transfers far worse than this one and it is an improvement on the DVD versions – but it’s certainly problematic.

In the Heat of the Night is a rough-looking picture, so I doubt anyone expected a crystal clean image from this Blu-ray. But the problems with this transfer go beyond simple film quality. The key issue appears to be a bad scan. There is a constant stream of what appears to be CRT machine noise, not film grain. If this is film grain, it looks like the stuff that shows up on an up-converted DVD (i.e. chunkier, more square shapes). The opening titles are brimming with low level noise that leaks out into the rest of the film’s night scenes (of which there are many, hence the title), but these scenes are closest to what the film looked like when released (DP Haskell Wexler notes that the lack of light they had to work with during the scenes on the disc’s commentary track, including its slightly green tint). Daylight scenes fare much worse, especially wide-angle shots, where details disappear into a digital haze. Some of the bad buzz suggested that the disc’s producers tried to cover the noise with DNR smoothing effects. Some of the facial close-ups are waxy, but the bigger issues are attempts to strengthen the soft details, leading to some unfortunate over-sharpening effects – specifically haloes and highlight hot spots. Details are most definitely crisper than a 480p transfer could manage, but are not impressive for an HD release. Again, some of this can be ‘blamed’ on the age and style of the material, but not all of it.

 In the Heat of the Night
The colour timing is a bit warmer during the daylight scenes than I recall, but the orange and red uptake sells the atmosphere without looking unnatural. Overall colour strength is vivid, including some really punchy blues, lush greens, and rich reds. These hues bleed into each other on occasion and the dancing noise causes additional cross-colouration issues. The over-sharpening is met with high contrast (during the commentary Wexler discusses the then-difficult process of shooting dark-skinned actors on colour film), which leads to some crushed blacks and the harshest edge haloes. The negative buzz is also claiming that the image has been squished. This is not immediately clear, but, comparing images to the DVD release, I can see that there is a noticeable vertical squeeze, despite both releases being framed at 1.85:1.

With my current set-up it's very, very difficult to time Blu-ray screen caps, so I was only able to match one of the DVD caps Troy at Andersonvision.com sent me. Please note that the details and colour qualities are generally the same (minus the compression of a 480p image) between the DVD (top) and Blu-ray (bottom). More importantly, note that the Blu-ray has definitely been vertically compressed.

 In the Heat of the Night

 In the Heat of the Night

Audio


The iffy, but not entirely disastrous transfer’s issues are slightly compounded by the fact that Fox/MGM hasn’t included the original mono soundtrack (since both previous DVD versions included it). Fortunately, the 5.1 remix, which first appeared on the 40th anniversary collector’s edition, is generally in keeping with the structure of the single channel version. There are some directional enhancements, like vehicles scooting through the frame (the car chase is pretty effective), doors slamming out of frame, and the mournful wail of trains out in the distance. The only time the remix is particularly awkward is when dialogue tracks are artificially stretched into the left and right speakers. This is a relatively rare occurrence and the vast majority of dialogue and effects settle pretty nicely in the center channel. The remix’s stereo and surround work is more devoted to Quincy Jones’ music, though the pop music, including the title track sung by Ray Charles, is given a wider range and deeper LFE enrichment than the more traditional scoring.

 In the Heat of the Night

Extras


Fox/MGM has included all of the 40th anniversary DVD release’s extras here, beginning with a group commentary featuring Jewison, director of photography Haskell Wexler, and actors Rod Steiger and Lee Grant. There are a few moments where Jewison and Wexler sound like they’re filming in the same room, but I believe this is just clever editing and the track is made up of two separate commentaries blended together, alongside snippets of interviews with Steiger and Grant. The composite qualities ensure a whole lot of information is crammed into the track, even if the flow isn’t exactly organic.

Other extras include:
  • Turning Up The Heat: Movie-Making in the 1960s (21:10, SD) – This retrospective featurette includes interviews with Jewison, Wexler, producer Walter Mirisch, composer Quincy Jones, Boyz ‘N tha Hood director John Singleton and various intellectual experts.http://www.dvdactive.com/reviews/dvd/in-the-hea... The Slap Heard Around The World (7:30, HD) – Further discussion concerning the film’s most famous sequence and its impact on the social scene of the day.
  • Quincy Jones: Breaking New Sound (13:00, HD) – Concerning the film’s genre-defining score and the crafting of every aspect of the film’s music.
  • Theatrical trailer


 In the Heat of the Night

Overall


There’s no questioning In the Heat of the Night’s status as an American classic. It’s also among the most plainly entertaining ‘important’ films to come out of the era. The critique here is in regards to Fox/MGM’s Blu-ray, which looks barely better than their older DVD release and doesn’t include the original mono soundtrack. Even those that would consider this release satisfactory must admit that it’s far from the ideal version of the film. This isn’t a disaster, but it is a definite disappointment.

 In the Heat of the Night

 In the Heat of the Night

 In the Heat of the Night

 In the Heat of the Night

 In the Heat of the Night

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


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