For as much as the Blu-ray format promises to deliver movies in stunning high-definition video quality, not every disc lives up to its potential. For this week’s Roundtable, let’s take a look at some of the Blu-rays that have disappointed us the most and desperately need new video transfers.
Keep in mind that the criteria here is specifically discs with poor video quality. Also, we’d like to focus on titles that haven’t already been reissued in superior remastered form. (So, discs like the old copies of ‘The French Connection’ and ‘Patton’ don’t qualify.)
I have two picks:
“Get to the choppa!” Or, just get to the lab and provide us with a decent transfer for ‘Predator‘! Here’s a movie that’s been released multiple times on Blu-ray, and the studio still can’t seem to get it right. The first release back in 2008 was encoded in the inferior MPEG-2 codec, with a low bit rate and all kinds of issues, particularly in terms of black crush and compression artifacts. In 2010, fans were delivered a new version called the ‘Ultimate Hunter Edition‘ using the MPEG-4/AVC codec, but this time the picture had way too much DNR (Digital Noise Reduction), so any hint of grain, fine detail or a “film-like” appearance totally disappeared. Finally, Fox converted the movie to 3D in 2013, but used the same horrible 2010 transfer for the update. Hopefully, the studio will eventually do a new 4k scan of the movie someday… but I’m not holding my breath.
My next choice comes wrapped in controversy, but the poorest Blu-ray transfer I own is Francis Ford Coppola’s film of ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula‘. The picture quality of the disc is extremely grainy, with horrible black levels and drab colors that don’t match any prior release of the film we’ve seen. At the time it came out on Blu-ray, the studio claimed that this was the way the movie looked in theaters and that the color timing and sharpness of all prior home video releases were way off. However, even press materials from the time of the film’s theatrical run (including a “Making of” book that I owned) show colors that clearly do not match up with the Blu-ray version. Sadly, we’ve seen many so-called “director’s intent” releases in hi-def that completely change the way a movie has always looked, and ‘Dracula’ remains one of the worst.
‘Playing by Heart‘ has easily the worst transfer ever. I don’t know if many people like this movie, or if they even remember it. Granted, it’s nothing great, but I’ve always liked it. It certainly deserves better than this!
The domestic Blu-ray was handled by Echo Bridge, which is a bad sign right off the bat. The aspect ratio has been butchered. Parts of the frame are out of focus (well, more out of focus than the rest of the frame). There’s even something weird happening that makes some frames fuzzy, completely obscured on the bottom half, and actually distorted, as if seen through a fish eye lens. Horrible.
Fans, if you like this movie and are region-free, get this import copy instead.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
Dateline! Summer 2008. Fox unleashed another onslaught of World War II films just in time for Father’s Day. I excitedly picked up two discs, undeterred by the stratospheric sticker prices that Fox consistently demanded at the time. Anyone who was skulking around home theater enthusiast blogs or message boards back then surely remembers all the vitriol slung towards the noise-reduced release of ‘Patton’. Meanwhile, I was puzzled that everyone was sort of shrugging off what to my eyes was a far more dismal presentation of ‘The Longest Day‘.
This was the first Blu-ray disc I remember seeing in which the DNR levels were cranked up past 11. There’s not a trace of any texture – film grain or otherwise – to be found. Borderline-all fine detail has been smeared away. John Wayne, Henry Fonda and Robert Mitchum all look more like something out of Madame Tussauds wax museum rather than legendary actors being photographed by a 35mm camera. It’s such a distractingly digital presentation that I could never immerse myself in the film at any point throughout its three hour runtime.
The really frustrating thing is that the source teases at something truly extraordinary. The transfer has no wear or damage whatsoever, and contrast is rock solid. If Fox had just left well enough alone, ‘The Longest Day’ could’ve ranked as one of the studio’s best-looking catalog releases ever. Instead, this widely loved film suffers from a disastrous presentation, and Fox couldn’t even be bothered to right its wrongs with a repackaged edition earlier this year.
While it may not be perfect, ‘Spartacus‘ is certainly a seminal film. Some thirteen years ago I was more than happy to add the Criterion DVD to my collection, but years later, when I had a viewing of the HD DVD, I couldn’t believe how lousy the film looked. I immediately (during the first 15 minutes of the movie) began comparing the Criterion DVD with the HD DVD, only to find that the comparison was much more puzzling than your typical poor HD release.
Ultimately, I decided to stick with my DVD version and wait for a Blu-ray release. Of course, when the Blu-ray was finally announced, I already knew that it would just be the HD DVD transfer on a different disc. And now, I still wait, knowing that the film deserves the most expert handling in terms of a new transfer and to have its soundtrack reworked. Suffice to say that Universal needs to restore the film with actual HD picture and HD sound in mind, which contrary to popular practice does not mean scrubbing out film grain.
When the staggering 22-film ‘Bond 50’ box set was released in 2012, it was a very exciting event for James Bond fans. Unfortunately, while the package was satisfying overall, the technical quality of the video transfers for the movies was extremely hit-or-miss. Some had been recently remastered and looked terrific, but others were sourced from old DVD-era video masters that don’t hold up well to high-definition scrutiny. The worst of the lot is ‘GoldenEye‘, which is plagued with blatant Edge Enhancement artifacts and sloppy Digital Noise Reduction filtering. Textures in the imagery are smoothed over, while electronic contrast boosting crushes shadow detail. At its best, the disc looks like a mediocre cable broadcast, and is barely watchable when projected to a large home theater screen size.
Quite frankly, MGM really needs to invest in new remasters for a lot of the James Bond movies. The studio should start with this one.
What are your worst Blu-ray disappointments? Tell us about them in the Comments below.