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Features


Originally made for British television, Red Riding is a trilogy of feature length films from three different directors based on David Peace’s novel series (of which there are four, apparently). In the first part, In the Year of Our Lord: 1974, a young Yorkshire Post reporter named Eddie Dunford (Andrew Garfield) investigates a series of child abductions. In the process he falls in love with a victim’s mother (Rebecca Hall), and uncovers a vast conspiracy of corruption in the Yorkshire police department that reaches all the way to local businessman John Dawson (Sean Bean), who has plans to build a modern indoor shopping mall. In the second part, In the Year of Our Lord: 1980, police investigator Peter Hunter (Paddy Considine) is brought to Yorkshire to assist with the now world famous Yorkshire Ripper case. His investigation leads him back to his past investigating the fallout of the Eddie Dunford case, and aligns him with the same corrupt and brutal police department. In the third part, In the Year of Our Lord: 1983, officer Maurice Jobson (David Morrissey) develops guilt over his department’s actions, and starts his own investigation into the missing children case, which the department forced an innocent man to confess to. Meanwhile, disgraced public solicitor John Piggott (Mark Addy) also begins delving into Yorkshire and John Dawson’s past.

 Red Riding Trilogy
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the series is the manner these directors choose to capture their given time periods. In the Year of Our Lord 1974 is the most literal, and looks like the post-New Wave American release, creating a pseudo-documentary look made up of what often appears to be stolen shots. Characters are often framed just out of shot, or their interaction take them out of frame altogether, and the camera is either entirely lopped off, or naturally handheld. The editing style is just as era-appropriate, skipping over any unnecessary moments in a somewhat jarring manner. Even the more meditative establishing shots are relatively brief. This deliberately visceral style is then nicely juxtaposed with a sort of dreamy storytelling style. As the movie proceeds it slowly becomes more expressionistic, and director Julian Jarrold (Kinky Boots) begins to embrace more abstract cutting habits, more extreme close-ups, and more aggressive sound design. Interestingly some of the strongest elements walk hand in hand with the most troubling. 1974 is, like David Fincher’s woefully overlooked Zodiac, more about the journey than the destination (Eddie Dunford is a bit of a composite version of some of Fincher’s Zodiac leads as well). Discovering the killer is secondary to the events that surround the search, and the ways which the search changes the characters. Unfortunately Jarrold focuses a little too hard on Eddie’s angst and love life for my taste, and pulls away a bit too much from the straight line plot, which is plenty compelling. 1974 opens average, grows weak, but finishes very strong, and reverberates through the other films in the series.

Like 1974, 1980 starts a little rough and slow, but finishes strong, and is at its best when dealing with the crime and corruption. The character drama here ends up feeling like an unrelated side trip away from the narrative, one set in place simply to justify the scope of the story, which I’m sure works well in book form. The persistent question becomes that of standalone parts vs. the greater whole. Are we meant to judge these on an episodic basis, or as one big movie? There are many overlapping elements, most of which won’t make sense without the other pieces, but most of these pieces aren’t integral to each episode beyond reference and theme. The overlapping elements connect the stories, but don’t quite intertwine them, and occasionally feel like afterthoughts, especially the sexual relationships between the lead males and supporting females. If the story were to be dissolved into a single 2.5/3 hour film (there’s talk), the majority of 1980 would be the easiest to cut. The Yorkshire Ripper never really plays into the overlapping story, and the Peter Hunter character has a very small impact on the other characters, unlike Eddie Dunford, who has a bearing on all three films. On the other hand, outside of some of the climatic realizations, 1980 could work as a stand-alone murder mystery.

 Red Riding Trilogy
In the Year of Our Lord 1983 is at times both the strongest and the weakest of the three films, mostly because it has both the advantage and disadvantage of featuring most of the thematic closure. The visuals play a bigger role than the story or characters this time around, and once again I’m reminded of David Fincher, though director Anand Tucker seems to have been more inspired by Panic Room, skipping over the intricate production designs of Zodiac for a generally clean look. The whole thing has a floating, dreamlike quality that pleasantly opposes 1974’s static, nightmare quality. There’s no denying that Tucker has a sharp eye, but he’s working from the one script that stands alone least effectively. Once again the new lead character is a bit unnecessary, and though admirably performed, slows the closure more than I’d prefer. To the same token the Maurice Jobson character loses something here, especially when the other two films are taken into account. There’s an implied revelation to his guilt-ridden nature, but instead of tragic the character comes across as a bit of an idiot for not putting two and two together, and/or protesting the corruption earlier. Solving the second problem could’ve actually solved the second problem as well.

 Red Riding Trilogy

Video


Each part of the film was shot using different stocks and cameras, so there is a clear difference both in terms of stylistic choices and final product in 1080p HD. In the Year of Our Lord 1974 is shot using 16mm film and cameras (1.85:1), and the frame is kept purposefully and consistently dirty. Colours are solid, mostly defined by ‘70s-specific browns and auburns. Grain is plenty heavy, and often increased by low lighting levels, thick cigarette smoke, and soupy fog. This grain is natural occurring, and doesn’t appear to include any compression noise or artefacts. Details are only as strong as the format allows, so the wide-angle shots don’t feature a lot of background intricacies, but close-ups are reasonably lifelike. Sharpness also depends greatly on lighting, so overall I’d call it generally soft.

In the Year of Our Lord 1980 is shot on 35mm film (2.35:1), and is generally a cleaner, more modern presentation. This transfer is comparatively very impressive, but does have some problems, most obvious of all being its weak black levels, which stick out pretty well considering all the night photography and monochromatic costume designs. The edges of the frame are lighter than the center, which increases the graying quality. This may have been a stylistic choice, but does not appear as such. Colours are limited by design, but despite the lack of solid black support are pretty natural, and clean, outside of some pretty heavy grain. Details are plenty sharp, and busy background elements show little sign of compression or softness unrelated to focus. The grain is a little excessive at points, all things considered, but I didn’t notice any obvious blocking or haloes.

 Red Riding Trilogy
In the Year of Our Lord 1983 is shot using the new, and magical digital Red One cameras, and it looks positively stunning. Stylistically Anand Tucker usually aims for a blown-out look. Harsh white light creates high contrast shapes, and stretches vertically across the frame in the form of glare (almost as if Tucker wants to outdo J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek for sheer quantity of lens artefacts on screen). The edges here are incredibly sharp, the image is almost entirely free of grain, and all the cleanliness leads to intricate details, and textural elements. The colour palette is largely desaturated, creating a semi-sepia toned look (that occasionally dives into full-on sepia), highlighted by occasional poppy red elements, lush greens, and supported by deep, solid blacks.

 Red Riding Trilogy

Audio


All three films are presented in standard Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, and though they share some thematic sound elements, the finally effects are sizably different. 1974 is a pretty quiet film overall, with very few stereo or surround elements (in-keeping with the mono mixes of the early ‘70s). Occasionally cars move directionally through frame, or the ambient noise of an office will tickle the outer channels, but mostly the center channel rules the roost, and the sound is captured on set. The volume levels are inconsistent, as is vocal clarity, likely because of some kind of directorial choice to avoid ADR. The slightly compressed nature of the track certainly doesn’t help, and neither do the many and varied accents (but that’s really my problem). Score is equally subtle, and generally repetitive, but the occasional bits of period music blast pretty heartily, and with enough LFE bump.

1980 is immediately presented as louder, warmer, and generally aurally sharper. Despite a generally similar audio design to 1974 (ie: dialogue being key) the stereo and surround channels are regularly worked into the mix, directional effects play a bigger role. The dialogue here is regularly clear, and overall volume levels are consistent enough I wasn’t forced to mess around with the volume. 1980 doesn’t feature the same big period music entries, but the score is more effective and eclectic, with the same LFE support. But then around the one hour point the centered dialogue suddenly bleeds into the stereo channels, and creates an echo effect. It’s annoying, and it’s really distracting. The stereo and surround design elements, and music are not effected, but all the centered dialogue and set-captured effects (shuffling papers, dialing phones) don’t sound right for the rest of the film.

 Red Riding Trilogy
1983, being the modernly produced of the three films, is also the best overall from an aural standpoint. Still, the majority of the audio design is centered, and the stereo and surround channels mostly act in a supportive rather than directional manner. The sound is generally more natural here, and the ambiance works beautifully to create the appropriate mood (bird calls and wind especially). The center channel stuff stays center this time around, the vocal performances are crisper, and the more startling effects feature more evocative LFE support. Music plays the smallest role in this part, but there are a few moments where pop music works its way subtly into the outer channels, changing position and sound quality as the story cuts to different locations.

 Red Riding Trilogy

Extras


All the set’s extra features are delegated to a second, standard DVD disc. These are divided by film, and begin with a series of interviews and Making-Ofs. These begin with an interview with Julian Jarrold (11:30), which covers his early involvement, his interest in ‘70s American crime films, characters, production design and photography, and his thoughts on the production as a whole. ‘The Making-Of 1980’ (18:50) is a rough mixture of raw behind the scenes material, and brief, on-the-spot, confessional-like interviews with some of the cast and crew, including actor Paddy Considine, director James Marsh, and writer Tony Grisoni. ‘The Making-Of 1983’ (6:40) is similar, also featuring rough set footage, and cast and crew interviews, this time including production designer Alison Dominitz, make-up designer Tahira Herold, and actor Mark Haddy. The featurettes are wrapped up with a made for IFC featurette/EPK (3:00), which is crawling with spoilers.

 Red Riding Trilogy
Next up are deleted scenes for each film. 1974 features three scenes (7:10), 1980 features six scenes (6:50), and 1983 features nine scenes (8:10), all presented in non-anamorphic video. Things are wrapped up with a TV spot for each part, and a trilogy TV spot and trailer (which push the Yorkshire Ripper aspects).

Overall


It dawns on me now that Red Riding Trilogy is a lot like Hot Fuzz, only generally depressing, and with a conspiracy of players working towards a mall development instead of away from it. It would certainly be one hell of a double/quadruple feature. So far as final thoughts on the films themselves, I was somewhat disappointed following the hype, but there’s no mistaking the good qualities of all three parts, and the greater whole (the greater whole). Against my usual judgment I’d say adaptation would work better as a shorter single film, but respect the experiment too much to suggest readers wait on a possible US theatrical version (remember, Traffic actually turned out very good). The three parts utilize different means of filming, so the video quality changes dramatically between them. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is good enough, except the end of the second film, which stretches the center channel across the stereo channels with no warning or reason. Extras are brief, but feature some decent interviews.

 Red Riding Trilogy

* 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. Thanks to Troy at Andersonvision.com for the screen-caps.


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