Weekend Roundtable: Worst Blu-ray Video Transfers

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.)

Shannon Nutt

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.

Mike Attebery

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.

Brian Hoss

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.

Josh Zyber

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.


  1. Chris B

    I was actually pretty dissapointed with Criterion’s release of “The 39 Steps”. I mean, I know the movie is really old and maybe in rough shape, but they’ve worked magic before with old B&W movies…I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed.

    P.S. Ichi The Killer is probably the worst looking BD I’ve ever seen.

  2. Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes. I know it’s a gritty movie but there is no distinction between the DVD and bluray. I’m glad my brother bought it and spared me the 10 to 15 bucks. The scream factory Amityville Horror part 1. As far as detail goes it looks like the fox/MGM version, which is satisfactory, but is covered with speckles, dirt, print damage. The fox/MGM is much cleaner, I was furious when I popped it in my player. Where did they get that version from? Why couldn’t they just use the version already available? Dog Soldiers was not much of a looker on bluray either. I had a copied dvd version, and could barely tell the difference between that and the bluray. The Re-Animator that is available domestically looks pretty shitty too. The DVD is cleaner and has about the same amount of detail. There’s a German version that looks spectacular.

  3. Chris B

    The first film in Leone’s “dollars trilogy” looks pretty rough as well, I couldn’t tell all that much difference between it and my old DVD copy. Luckily, it’s the worst of the trilogy and not one I see myself revisiting any time soon.

  4. Guido

    Tremors. Catalog titles from Universal usually don’t look great on blu, but this is truly awful. There isn’t a single shot in the movie where the edge enhancements and DNR aren’t noticable.

  5. C.C. 95

    There STILL hasn’t been a decent transfer of DIE HARD. Why there hasn’t been a ‘red carpet’ treatment release of this Jewel in 20th Century Fox’s Crown is beyond me. Lots of DH COLLECTIONS, and sure, maybe LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD is almost reference quality- But who cares, if the original masterpiece looks like poo?

    • William Henley

      I go the UK import of the entire series, and they looked fine to me. Not sure if its the same transfer or not, but I have a 65 inch television, and the movies all looked great.

  6. Mattaphysics

    1 . “Last Temptation of Christ” was a huge disappointment on Bluray. I’ve owned the movie on VHS and DVD, so I was used to the whole movie being bathed in rich earth tones. But all that was altered on Bluray, when those warm, orange, desert sands were altered into PASTEL PURPLE!

    2. The “Night of the Living Dead ’90” bluray from Twilight Time will always be unwatchable because of the dark blue tinting present throughout 85% of the film. There’s comes a point about 15 minutes in where you can’t tell what going on because it’s so dang dark, and the picture never improves until near the end of the film. Also, for $30, you think they would have put it on a 50GB disk. But nope, it comes on a 25GB disk, and it’s very noticeable because some shots are very soft.

    Oddly, both movies have their original color timing on Netflix, so I never watch the blurays now.

  7. How about the first releases of both:
    Lethal Weapon
    The Fugutive (Harrison Ford/Tommy Lee Jones)

    Were either of these upgrades from the dvd versions? If we kept getting crap like these, the format war would have ended up with Blu Ray being the loser.

    • I can’t speak for Lethal Weapon, but the 20th anniversary edition of The Fugitive was worlds better than the original Blu release. I kept my old edition when I received the new disc just so I can use it for comparison to show people bad transfers vs good transfers.

  8. Ted S.

    Still waiting for a great HD transfer of T2: Judgement Day. Hopefully once Cameron is done with the Avatar sequels, he’ll ask the studio to release a great HD transfer of his great film.

  9. William Henley

    I think I am going to hit mostly imports here.

    Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
    In a nutshell, the original DVD, when it came out in 1999, looked fantastic. It was also 4×3 letterbox, which I didn’t realize until years later. The Blu-ray looks like, instead of going back to the original film (and looking at the video, it was obviously shot on film), and even given Universal’s track record for using old HD transfers, it looks like here they took the 4×3 letterbox SD video, cropped it, upconverted it, ran it through some filters and slapped it on a Blu-Ray disc. This is lazy even for universal.

    Dreamer: Inspired by a true story

    Right now, the movie is only available on Blu-Ray in Italy, so you have to import it. What is wrong here is that the contrast is just way too dark, making the entire movie look like it was shot at 3 in the morning or with a gauze like they used to do when trying to shoot night scenes during the day back in the 60s. Luckily there doesn’t seem to be any DNR applied, and the image is sharp, but you just cannot make out details because they are all lost in the darkness of the movie.

    Dune Miniseries – French Import
    Okay, the fact that this exists on Blu-Ray at all is impressive. The miniseries was made in the late 1990s for the SciFi channel. While shot on film, all visual effects were rendered in SD (in fact, some were obviously rendered at 480i instead of 480p). What you got is a best-effort release based on existing elements (without reconstructing and rerendering effects). Where effects were generated in-camera, or no effects were used, they use the original film elements, and the show really shines. You can see beautiful details in costumes, and colors are rich and vibrant. However, a LOT of the show, and most of the first episode, had heavy digital effects applied, and it looks like the material was outsourced to various production companies who rendered stuff at differnent resolutions. Here, they upconverted the final composite shots from the sources available. I will give them credit, they went through a lot of trouble trying to match the color and contrast level, but cutting from one shot to another and going from a striking film transfer to an SD upconvert, is jaring, and it happens a LOT in this show. Still, if you are a fan, this is probably the best you will ever see this unless they do a full Star Tek style reconstruction of the miniseries, which is doubtful.

    Nim’s Island – This was one of the first Blu-Rays I remember buying, back when you pretty much bought any disc released to have somehting to watch on your pretty new HDTV. However, I think the problem may have layed with the digital intermediary, as it looked similar at the theater. Pretty much, skin colors are off, making it look like actors have fake tans, and the contrast is blown way out of porportion, to the point that there are areas where it hurts my eyes.

    Young Frankenstein – DNR nightmare, with film grain frozen on the screen.

  10. Clemery

    For a recent example… Ravenous.

    The HDD review alone was enough to prevent me from purchasing the disc, but I have since had the opportunity to sample the video quality, and there is really no excuse for such a poor transfer these days, regardless of the studio, publisher, or age of the film (and Ravenous isn’t exactly what I would call ‘old’).

    For shame, Shout Factory… for shame!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *