Short Circuit (UK - BD)
Chris takes a look at the Blu-ray release of this family favourite from the 1980s...
An experimental military robot escapes after being struck by lightning, giving it human intelligence. He escapes and finds a home with madcap Stephanie Speck (Ally Sheedy), who believes he is an alien, but hot on his trail are scientists Newton Crosby (Steve Guttenburg) and his assistant (Fisher Stevens), who must get to their creation before the army, who plan to put Number 5 out of service permanently. (Taken from the PR.)
As with Flight of the Navigator, I hadn’t seen Short Circuit for many years prior to this Blu-ray viewing. I wish I could say that it had aged gracefully, but the truth is I didn’t find it as endearing as I did when I was a lad. I guess back then I was oblivious of the fact that it features a white Jewish guy in Indian make-up putting on an accent so stereotypical it makes Apu from The Simpsons look downright sensitive. Even so, it’s still a relatively enjoyable ride packed with memorable lines such as ‘Originally I had non-military purposes in mind. I designed it as a marital aid’; ‘I thought they were called choppers? Well, now they're called Hueys. Well, why wasn't I notified?’ and ‘Hey, laser-lips, your mamma was a snow blower’ (to name but a few). The puppeteering is also such that one can easily suspend disbelief in relation to Number Five and his robotic brethren; in fact they’re almost more lifelike than Steve Guttenberg and Ally Sheedy…
Second Sight's BD release of Short Circuit has much in common with their release of Flight of the Navigator, which is to say that it suffers from a number of issues but is still very watchable. First impressions are actually very good, as the 2.40:1 (1080/24p AVC) image is stable and largely (but not completely) free from film artefacts like dirt and scratches. There's some quite noticeable grain on show throughout, but I believe this is largely due to the film stock used for the shoot. It’s at its heaviest during interior, low-light scenes when it can become quite distracting. Detail isn’t as strong as a modern feature, but it’s consistent with a film of this vintage and I have a feeling the original photography was quite soft to begin with. Having said that the top and bottom of the frame display ‘tramlines’ that are often a tell-tale sign of filtering, so who knows? Colour rendition appears quite natural for the most part, but I did find the contrast a little on the flat side. However, this would appear to be an accurate representation of the original photography. This one isn’t going to blow anybody away, but I was quite happy with it given my low expectations and the fact that Short Circuit obviously wasn’t a big budget affair to begin with.
The disc includes two audio tracks: LPCM 2.0 and DTS 5.1. I'm not quite sure why the DTS-HD track from the US release has been dropped in favour of vanilla DTS, but it could be for space considerations as the US disc didn't have an uncompressed audio track sitting alongside the lossless one. In any event I decided to break with tradition and go for the remixed 5.1 track for my viewing, although I did switch to the stereo audio on a number of occasions for comparison purposes.
Generally speaking the 5.1 remix is actually pretty good. It doesn't try to do anything too flashy - there are no exaggerated effects or audio replacement here - but rather fleshes out the stereo mix. There are some nice pans across the front of the soundstage, while the surrounds are mainly used for ambience, the odd sound effect and the musical score. Dialogue is always centred and clear but the looping is inconsistent, which results in dramatic shifts in volume and clarity at various points. This also affects the rest of the track, including sound effects, which can become almost unbearably loud without warning. These issues are inherent to the source and are present on both the stereo and 5.1 mixes, so it’s not a fault with the Blu-ray per se. There is minimal bass during some of the livelier sequences, but it’s not particularly impressive and most of the explosions sound pretty anaemic. (As an aside, this is the first time I noticed that the sound of the S.A.I.N.T.’s lasers is the same as the sound of the proton packs from Ghostbusters.) The stereo track is quite similar to the 5.1 effort, although it’s obviously less immersive and the overall volume is quite a bit lower. On the whole this is a pretty good track considering the source limitations.
I was happy to learn that the disc included most of the extras from the US release. The one omission is the isolated effects and score track, which appears to have been dropped in favour of the stereo audio option. It’s a shame, but what we’re left with is actually quite good.
- Commentary: Director John Badham and writers S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock are on hand to talk us through every aspect of the film’s production in this engaging chat track
- Cast and Crew Interviews: A series of interviews with Ally Sheedy, Steve Guttenberg, John Badham, Syd Mead and Eric Allard that run for over ninety minutes in total
- Creation of Number 5: A short featurette that concentrates on the design and construction of the robots
- Behind the Scenes: A very short look at the shooting of a number of scenes
- Trailer: The film’s original theatrical trailer is also available in extremely poor quality 4:3
Perhaps I’m being overly generous with the audio-visual scores because of my fond memories of the film and the poor quality of the previous home video releases, but I think it’s actually a fairly good representation of the source. It’s stronger than Flight of the Navigator in some areas and weaker in others, but overall I think it almost achieves parity with that title. The bonus material is the one area where it does exceed the other feature, although it’s not as strong as the US release. As for the film itself, well it’s not a particularly brilliant film but it does have its charms and the relatively lackadaisical pacing makes a refreshing change from today’s frenetic efforts.
* 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
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 19th November 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: LPCM 2.0 Stereo English, DTS 5.1 English
Extras: Audio Commentary, Interviews, Featurettes, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: John Badham
Cast: Ally Sheedy, Steve Guttenberg, Fisher Stevens, Austin Pendleton, G.W. Bailey, Brian McNamara, Tim Blaney
Genre: Comedy, Family and Sci-Fi
Length: 98 minutes
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