November 01, 2007

Notes from a DVD Geek

by Jeremy Lassen

Hey everyone . . . I’m going to focus on “Special Edition” re-releases galore this month.  That’s right . . . re-releases of your favorite films and TV shows.  Is it really worth paying for twice?  Or should you hang onto your previous edition, and not bother with the upgrades?  These are tough questions that every cinemaphile faces, and I’m here to help.  

First up is "The Return of the Living Dead".  I know I promised to not talk about horror films, but this is "The Return of the Living Dead" --  you know, the Greatest. Zombie. Movie. Ever!  Now it's available as a two-disk special edition: everyone’s favorite punk rock zombie movie gets a slightly better treatment then it had previously.  There is a new commentary track featuring cast members that is excellent, although occasionally silly, and there is a really good feature-ette covering the making of this film.  There’s also a generic and not terribly exciting mini-documentary on 80’s horror, which is mostly forgettable.  The picture quality is the same as the previous version, and there is no new cut, or version of the film.  It’s the same one from the first DVD, and it features some of the same minor problems regarding dialogue replacement and some song synching issues that were different in the VHS/laser disk edition.  Not perfect, but slightly better.  If you don’t own the earlier DVD version, well, you’re a bad person, but you can make up for it by buying the special edition DVD right now.   If you do own it, you're probably a total fan of this movie, and it's worth getting, even if it doesn’t include some of the “holy grail” work print material, or some of the “fixes” that zombie fan purists demand.  “Send more DVDs!”

Next up, "A Clockwork Orange" is finally getting a non-barebones release.  This two-disk special edition features two "making of" documentaries, a documentary on the career of Malcolm McDowell, and commentary track featuring Malcolm McDowell and historian Nick Redman that will ensure you will know way too much about Kubrick and Burgess and "A Clockwork Orange".  It also features a re-mastered print, presented in anamorphic aspect ratio, which is a notable improvement over the previous non-anomorphic disks.  This one is a no-brainer, and should be picked up immediately.

Another Kubrick film that is getting re-released is "2001: A Space Odyssey".  This two-disk special edition has a ton of supplemental materials, (including several documentaries and commentary by Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood which is heavy on the technical information). This disk has a slightly wider framing then the last “digitally restored” single disk edition, but the picture difference isn’t nearly as dramatic as the previous restored disk which was already anamorphic -- it isn’t quite as noticeable as it was on "A Clockwork Orange".   If you don’t have it already, this is the one to get.  If you’ve already got it, and don’t care about the extras, you can safely stick with your “remastered” edition of "2001," from 2001.

Next up on the Kubrick-palooza is "The Shining".  This is one of the big annoying disks of DVD yore. The digitally remastered disk was okay, and Kubrick approved . . . However, it  featured the entire film negative with a 1:33 (TV) aspect ratio.  Film snobs were horrified, as this did not match the film's original projected aspect ratio, but the ornery Kubrick snarled “my full negative is just as well framed as any damned matted print that you kids saw in the theater.  And if you're sitting in your living room, watching a TV, you're not getting the original theatrical experience anyway, so you can all sod off!” or something to that effect.  Since the last release was full-framed, it was not anamorphic.  The new two-disk edition is slightly cropped to a 1:78 aspect ratio, and is anamorphic.  To see a great example of the difference in framing….. check out the full frame from the negative here:
and the new, matted aspect ratio in the special edition here:

[Big shout out to <> for their continuously exhaustive comparisons of various releases, btw].

The overall bit rate and picture quality of the new release is significantly better then the previous “remastered” disks.  Finally, a note on the 3 different “lengths” of this movie.  After initial reviews of the 144 minute US theatrical cut were unkind, Kubrick re-edited a shorter 119 minute “international” version of the film.  Kubrick was said to have preferred this version.  The original UK Pal disk was 114 minutes . . . after the 4% NTSC to PAL speed up, this matches the international 119 minute cut exactly.  So if you want to see this version, you have to track down an older British import.  In its initial limited theatrical run, there was a 146 minute version that featured a snippet between the final “Jack in the snow,” and “Jack on the wall” shots.  This showed Danny and Wendy in a hospital bed in Colorado, clearly having survived the mess at the Overlook.  This scene is nowhere to be found on any supplemental materials, or alternate versions of the film, and is probably lost.  Despite this rather large omission, the extras on the new special edition are extensive, and contain all the extras from earlier editions, pus more, and include an excellent commentary track.  One can argue all day about the framing of this print, but I’ll take this one over the open matte version any day of the week.  But if you do want the open matte edition, I’d suggest getting it now, (yes, we do have copies of this version at Borderlands,) before it disappears.

In some alternate universe, there is a 5 disk version of this film that features an un-sped-up NTSC, 119 minute version of the international  cut, the full frame cut, and the new 1:78 matted version and the option to insert the 2 minute hospital sequence at the end. This is the same alternate universe that features Samuel Jackson as the voice of the giant purple-helmeted planet-eater Galactus, who is more then a cloud of dust in the second Fantastic Four movie.  But that’s a different story.  <>

It’s not science fiction, but I thought I’d fill you in on another bit of Kubrick DVD trivia.  The new two-disk special edition of "Eyes Wide Shut" is indeed (despite some package mislabeling on some editions) the international, unrated version of the film.  There is only one version of the film on this special edition DVD, and it IS the unrated international cut.  It does NOT contain the R-rated cut  You may recall that there was a big dust-up here in the States a a few years back, over the fact that, in order to get an R rating, some robed figures were digitally added between the camera and naked folks, during the big orgy scene, because . . . you know,  if Americans saw Tom Cruises’ dangly bits, they might all become Scientologists or something.  Thank goodness Jack Valenti and the prudes at the MPAA saved us from that fate.   At the time, Kubrick was still ornery as hell, and said “I agreed to turn in an R-rated movie, and I did . . . it's my movie . . . there’s nothing wrong with the R-rated cut, so there’s no reason to having something different on DVD.”  Or at least those are the words that Warner Brothers put in his mouth, or order to justify the R-rated cut.  The same full-frame 1:33 aspect ratio issues plagued the previous releases as well.  For comparison shots, be sure to check out at

A couple of other “re-releases” of a different sort should be considered as well.  A year or so ago, the good folks at Warner Brothers released “The Ultimate Slayer Box Set” that had all seven seasons of Buffy, in one box.  Now you can get all six seasons of Angel in one box.  This is definitely a good deal if you don’t have the season sets already.  And while some of you may not be big Angel fans, as opposed to Buffy fans, I gotta say the Angel-as-a-Muppet episode makes the entire series worthwhile.

The other big “all in one” box set to consider is "The X-Files," which has all the TV seasons, plus the movie, in one big-ass box.  "The X-Files" was one of the first TV shows to prove there was a market for season box sets . . . but the individual season sets were always very pricey, especially compared to what other season box sets go for these days.  The bonus documentaries, and mythology summations that the network would run during the run-up to the season premiers are included as extras in this set, as well as a bunch of documentaries and stuff . . . And even if you only care for the first four or five seasons, this complete set is still a bargain.

And to finish off this month's focus on re-releases, I of course have to point out that the original cult TV series is finally available in a definitive format.  "Twin Peaks:  The Definitive Gold Box Edition" has ten disks, four documentaries, and all the episodes, including both the American and the European versions of the original pilot episode.  The pilot is the big thing that was missing from previous DVD sets.  This set also features both the original broadcast stereo audio mix, or a new 5:1 surround-sound mix.  Full details of this set can be found here:  [].  The only thing missing is, of course, the Twin Peaks movie, "Fire Walk With Me".  Oh well.  Nothing is perfect.

I’ll talk at you next month, with a bunch of Christmas gift ideas.

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