Another Thing…

anotherThingWhilst on the subject of John Carpenter movies (cunning link there to yesterday’s post) I’ve found myself pre-ordering another copy of The Thing, this time the 4K UHD edition that Universal are releasing in September. I don’t know how many times I’ve bought this film on a home video format: DVD twice, Blu-ray twice… actually I think it may have been three times on Blu-ray, and that is just plain insane even to me. But it’s The Thing, and it’s on 4K UHD, and it is surely the last copy of this film I will ever buy. Please, lord, the last time. I’m beginning to think the 4K format is the work of the Devil.

It is rather quietly ironic, in what is supposed to be the slow decline of physical media, that we can still be suckered into buying these new editions of films we’ve bought so many times before. Its likely no accident that Carpenter is so well-represented on 4K disc (Prince of Darkness, Halloween, Escape From New York, The Fog and They Live with more likely to follow before the disc replicators finally grind to a halt), as his films have always been very popular on home video formats. I remember back when VHS started here in the UK, Escape From New York was one of the first big ‘hits’ on rental in 1983, partly because its a good film but also because it sported, at the time, a pretty amazing stereo track the likes of which previously unheard of in the home. Of course it was on VHS in pan and scan/pain an’a scam format but hey, it was 1983 and our televisions tended to be still black and white even then, and absolutely 4:3. How times change, but some Things (see what I did there?) stay the same, sort of.

Apocalypse Now 4K UHD

apocI finally -FINALLY- got round to watching my 4K UHD copy of Apocalypse Now last night. Although my copy is the six-disc set with the Final Cut and Redux versions I went with the theatrical, as I think less is more for Apocalypse Now. I know Coppola seems as endlessly fascinated (frustrated?) with this film as his buddy George Lucas was with his Star Wars films, but this film is pretty much perfect as it is. I tried to enjoy the Redux version -I’ve watched it twice and always walk away hating it, so I didn’t even consider watching the Final Cut. Maybe one day, as I guess it’d be a shame for the disc to just sit there, but is there any film out there with two alternate cuts as superfluous as those for Apocalypse Now?

This is such a damned extraordinary film. I think every time I watch it, I get more out of it, and enjoy it all the more, and it just seems more and more remarkable that something like this could even get made (I guess you just had to be the guy behind two Godfather films in order to get a pass for a film like this). Its a work of madness. Of mind-boggling crazy ambition. Its an Hollywood epic in the guise of an Arthouse movie, or maybe its the reverse.

It has, without any doubt, the best voiceover narration of any film, ever. Maybe there is some other film to compete, but if there is I’ve never seen/heard it (closest I can imagine is maybe the voiceover narration for  Taxi Driver, although that example feels too obvious).

Some damn fool went and made a sci-fi reboot and called it Ad Astra. Which does make me think, why can’t someone make a sci-film as important and strange and huge and crazy as Apocalypse Now? Maybe Kubrick already did it with 2001: A Space Odyssey. Both films seem as equally important as regards being landmarks in Cinema, although so wildly different.

The 4K disc is pretty much as gorgeous as everyone has said it is in reviews etc. The HDR really does increase the sense of depth and verisimilitude: the Playboy bunnies scene pops out of the jungle darkness and the Do Lung Bridge sequence pops so bright it feels like being stabbed in the eyes. Which does make me wonder about some of these 4K releases, in the case of Apocalypse Now, how it looks with its HDR pass likely surpasses anything cinematographer Vittorio Storaro originally intended or could have hoped for back in its original projection era. Should the film in 4K be considered authentic?

I have one more question if someone could answer it: Apocalypse Now has no title card, no credits at the start and none at the end (the film fades to black and that’s it). I was just wondering how Coppola got away with that or if the film originally had credits during its theatrical release. I wouldn’t have thought the film unions would allow a film to be released without the cast or crew being credited anywhere (didn’t George Lucas get into trouble for leaving Irvin Kershner’s card until the end of The Empire Strikes Back in 1980?).

Predator (4K UHD)

pred4kIts easy to forget, as time rolls on, just how wild and special the 1980s were for those of us growing up back then, and just how bloody good films were (I’m conveniently ignoring turkeys like Howard the Duck, admittedly, to make my point, but…).

Even ignoring the glorious summer of 1982 and its own remarkable crop of genre classics, we were graced with two Star Wars films, the Indiana Jones trilogy, Terminator, Robocop, The Abyss, Die Hard, Tim Burton’s Batman and so many others. We had Arnie, we had Sly, crikey, we didn’t know how good we had it: and I’m often surprised just how well so many of those 1980s films hold up still, all things considered, and are often clearly superior to all the remakes/reboots/sequels that they have been mined for over the decades since by an increasingly imagination-bereft Hollywood. Maybe films back then benefited from their photochemical, technological limitations, which grounded them in ways that contemporary films fail to be.

Case in point: Predator, a film which arguably looks better here on 4K UHD than it ever has, in a pretty gorgeous presentation: plenty of grain, yes, but also a delicious ‘pop’ graced from some of the highlights through HDR with a pleasing sense of depth and tactile reality. I rather felt like I was watching it for the first time, back in the cinema again. Of course, the image quality is only the icing on the cake: the film itself is a high-testosterone, gory and over-the-top majestic action spectacle, a high-octane b-movie. Tautly wound, it doesn’t waste a moment and its a magnificent example of Arnie in his absolute prime. Actually, I had to double-check the year Predator came out, because looking at Arnie’s physique in this film -he’s pretty huge- reminded me so much of his 1982 Conan The Barbarian (how dearly I’d love to see THAT in 4K) that one could be forgiven thinking he’d made Predator directly after that John Milius sword and sorcery epic.

I’d forgotten just how good Predator is though. Its simply glorious stuff, even the cheesy, 1980s-at-their-worst stuff feels like a breath of fresh air after the last several years of anodyne Hollywood blockbusters. Stogie-chomping Duke (Arnie) and old war-buddy-in-a-tie Dillon (Carl Weathers) can’t say hello without flexing their biceps for a contest of physical prowess. Jesse Ventura chewing up the scenery along with his beef jerky. Big guns! Big explosions! Boy this film is loud. The glorious Alan Silvestri score that reminds just how great movie scores could be, and how much we’ve lost with what they have lately become. By the time Arnie yelled “Get to the Chopper!” I howled with joy and high-fived my wife. What a ride this film was in 4K. Absolutely thoroughly enjoyed it and there’s no better way to experience it than in this new 4K incarnation.

Recent Additions

P1110248 (2)Buying films on disc is still ‘A Thing’ but as you can see from the snap I’ve taken of my recent purchases, rather than new films my eye is in the rear view mirror and past films that I’ve seen before (and yes, bought before on previous formats). At least I’ve managed to resist the Indiana Jones set just recently released on 4K. No doubt its time will come eventually but one has to draw the line somewhere (sorry, Indy).

So anyway; I rationalised buying the Toy Story 4K box because I never bought Toy Story 4 on disc and this long-overdue box release is the most cost-effective way of going 4K on these Pixar classics. The Predator 4K box has just come back into stock at a reduced price (I missed the opportunity prior to Christmas) and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly is just one of those films… well, I bought it on R1 DVD so many moons ago and then again on Blu-Ray… maybe this is the last time (my wallet certainly hopes so). As a film lover some films just, well, they drive us crazy and we lose all common sense and go all Gollum (“I must have it, my precious!”). Lastly I managed to pick up Murder on the Orient Express on 4K for less than a tenner- its a film I saw on a rental that I really enjoyed, and at the time I was wondering how gorgeous it would look in 4K so I’ll find out soon enough. I just noticed that I watched that rental nearly three years ago!

And here’s a shocker- I’ve actually gone and bought two films on digital. I know, I know, shock, horror, that’s Hell freezing over, but I couldn’t resist testing the water with some bargains on Amazon. I bought well-regarded indie sci-fi Prospect for 99p in HD, and a HD copy of Aniara, a Swedish sci-fi film that I’ve been curious about for just £1.99. I don’t think digital will ever be a Big Deal for me, I’ll always prefer films on disc but at those prices (must be the digital equivalent of the Bargain Bin), what’s not to like? If I watch something I absolutely adore I’ll just get the disc version and won’t have lost much financially. Mind, I still feel like I’ve crossed the Rubicon.

What the Duck?!!

htd4kWhat is THIS? What’s going on… has the world gone Quackers? I guess this means anything is possible on 4K disc now. We’ve waddled across the Rubicon, people.

We’re STILL waiting for The Abyss on Blu-ray never mind 4K and there’s so many genuinely ‘Great Movies’ like Citizen Kane, the original King Kong, or Ben Hur and so many others waiting for 4K releases… cripes, off the top of my head Once Upon a Time in the West or even Conan The Barbarian or The Thin Red Line… the list is pretty endless really, because Howard the Duck…its almost funny. Well actually it IS funny because its really quite a joke. Is Howard the Duck a really successful, hugely popular cult movie that has huge demand from the public for a 4K release, are we living in that world? Well I suppose we must be, because its coming on July 5th.

Last Week

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                                              Great Scott! Those Mattes!

Well there goes another week in the mad tumble towards what some people are still hoping will turn out to be Christmas. Regular readers may have noticed a wee drop in the number of reviews being posted lately- its partly because I’ve been turning my attention to watching television shows this month, which obviously take more time to watch than a movie does. This week, though, much of my time has been taken up with other distractions, including watching Back to the Future and its sequel, the imaginatively titled Back to the Future Part II which have just been released on 4K UHD (I’ll likely get around to the third entry sometime today). Visually these films are rather more problematic than some catalogue releases on 4K UHD, which I gather is partly down to the filmstock used at the time and the optical effects, which is a particular problem with the second entry. I remember watching the film at the cinema and being wowed by those visual effects, particularly the flying cars (at the time seeming much more sophisticated than the flying car sequences in Blade Runner) and the clever split screen techniques. Watching them on this 4K presentation, some shots still impress but goodness some are pretty terrible, really: in some places the optical effects leave the flying cars looking like smudgy animation and at other moments almost pasted on like cut-outs. I don’t know if its a degradation of the original elements, or an inevitable consequence of 4K resolution and HDR making mattes etc much more problematic, but some of that once so impressive stuff looks fairly dire now and quite distracting. If anything, it makes those flying car sequences in Blade Runner all the more impressive as they seem to hold up much better (probably a case of the more simple shots being easier to realise back then, or the digital trickery that was applied to the restoration for the Final Cut).

I do have to wonder though about how this film originally looked in the cinema, my memories of it- were we so much more forgiving? Or is it something to do with how we watch films now on these 4K panels. Back when I saw the film it was blown up on a huge cinema screen, and yet still seemed to hold up better than now on my unforgiving OLED- or is it really just how I’m remembering it? Was my old VHS copy, say, simply much more low-resolution, low-contrast and therefore much more forgiving itself, too?

Fortunately the films themselves remain quite fun and endearingly old-fashioned- once all blockbusters were made this way; there’s a sense of innocence to them that was possibly cynically calculated for all I know, but nostalgia certainly clouds over some of the bad points. In some ways Part Two seems eerily prescient- the middle section looking rather uncannily Trumpworld- I’ll never see those alternate 1985 sequences the same way as I used to.

But thinking of how the films effects turned out some thirty years later on 4K UHD, and how problematic these BTTF films have been on home video over the years (some purists reckon the Blu-rays were unwatchable), made me think about home video and owning films. I remember a time when owning a film was impossible, frankly, and a time when expensive early VHS tapes were sold (I recall seeing a copy of Jaws in a cardboard slipcase for sale for something like £76 in a posh department store in 1982). Eventually films could be found more cheaply, early examples being the Cinema Club range I remember seeing in Woolworths. One of the latter included 2001: A Space Odyssey, a copy of which I had for Christmas one year.

But of course it wasn’t really a case of owning the movie, not properly. That copy of 2001 I had was on a pan and scan, horribly fuzzy VHS- if Kubrick himself ever had the misfortune to watch a copy I’m sure he would have been mortified. Which makes me wonder how film-makers re-watch their films and what they really think of some of the home video editions over the years, but that’s really another conversation entirely.

So anyway, it wasn’t really owning a copy of the film properly- more like owning a second-rate approximation of 2001. One could argue that of all the formats, the only version where I came really close to owning a genuine proper copy of Kubrick’s epic is the 4K UHD released late last year, which looks utterly gorgeous and certainly far superior to how those Back to the Future films look in 4K. Which is where filmstocks used over the years, and how certain prestige films were shot over the decades, complicate matters (Vertigo, for instance, is a revelation in 4K UHD).

Some great, classic films, some of which are my favourites, have been released on 4K UHD over the past few years, surely the last home video format we’ll ever be asked to buy, and which some of us are fortunate to watch on pretty large, sophisticated 4K panels. Returning to that £76 copy of Jaws I looked at in that department store so many years ago, I’m pretty confident it looked bloody horrible compared to the excellent 4K UHD disc of the film that came out earlier this year. Are we REALLY owning definitive copies of our favourite films now, ironically at the end of physical media?

We wants it, we needs it. Must have the Precious 4K

lotrQuick, get it while you can– oh frack. Sold out already. That’s the oh-so-pretty-isn’t it-me-precious- steelbook edition of the Lord of the Rings trilogy coming out on 4K UHD in December (or, hey, 30th November for us Brits).  Are production runs in this Age of Covid (hmm, sounds quite Toklienesque) so limited or is the demand for 4K LOTR so great? (hint, I really don’t think its the latter). I was actually humming and ahhing about it (I enjoy the LOTR films but I don’t think I have actually watched my extended boxset on Blu-ray at all, another Shelf of Shame candidate) but fortunately, as it turned out I opted on pre-ordering on the off chance and scarcely thirty minutes later Amazon had frozen orders, presumably having exhausted their allocation. It does look nice (the standard edition being a digipack lacking the dazzle). I know. I know. But its practically Christmas when this set comes out, and we’ll need stuff to cheer us up this year of all years won’t we, during the impending Covid Festivities of Christmas 2020. Bad enough the nights drawing in and the days getting colder, its hard not to feel down about everything going on in the world. Lets get what pleasures we can while we still can, yeah?

How very hedonistic. That my freinds is the ‘word of the day’ : hedonistic.

Bonfire of the Cinemas

News today that Villeneuve’s Dune has been pushed back from its December release to, not just next year, but as late as October next year -yes, October 2021, a whole year away as I type this- was possibly expected, but still comes as something of a shock. Following on from confirmation that Cineworld cinemas here in the UK -and in the US, too I believe- intend to close for the next four to six months, making as many as 5,500 UK employees redundant, well, its all very alarming. It really feels like we are witnessing a bonfire of the cinemas. 

The Class of 2020, save for a few unlikely candidates like Disney’s Mulan and Warner Bros Tenet, seem to have upped sticks and walked off to the pavilion (to strike a very British cricket analogy) and not coming out to play until 2021. All those films we expected to see, from James Bond to Black Widow to Wonder Woman to Dune, and possibly later own on disc editions on our shelves by late Winter or early Spring, remain unseen, possibly for another six months (and certainly twelve months, in the case of Dune). And of course, those films gate-crashing the 2021 party have left those films already planned for 2021 up in the air (Dune moving to next October has pushed The Batman to March 2022, which seems such a long time away). 

One has to wonder though, how many cinemas will still be around next summer to show those tardy 2020 flicks rubbing shoulders with the ‘proper’ 2021 flicks that refuse to be shoved around. Or perhaps the more important question is who will be running them/owning those cinemas. Maybe the fittest will survive and will be all the better for it, with less competition ensuring fuller cinema screens for those that remain viable, while others have the shutters up for good. Also, if the marketplace gets overly crowded next year, will some films suffer when another blockbuster comes out the following week to steal its seats and punters, or will we see a Nuclear Box-Office Summer with studios bullishly putting out tentpole films out on the same weekends? That’s if we even get a summer box office next year, its hard to say what state things will be in regards Covid.  Will audiences feel confident enough to return to cinemas in droves next summer? I read some pundit claiming that it will take cinemas five years to recover audience numbers to what they were last year, in a similar fashion to how the airline industry is claiming it will be several years before flight numbers recover properly. 

How many times can Eon delay its next Bond movie? At this rate Tom Hardy will be getting too old to play the guy.

And indeed, what does this mean for the already crumbling physical media market without new product- it surely cannot thrive with endless catalogue titles being re-released in 4K and Blu-ray. Its a question if it can even survive like that, nevermind thrive. The 4K format is already fairly niche (one could well argue that even Blu-ray is niche, as DVD still seems to dominate what little shelf-space physical discs enjoy in Supermarket real estate) and what 4K UHD needs in order to in any way progress is titles like the new Bond, or visual spectacles like Dune and other blockbusters. The release schedules for the Autumn already look desperately anaemic, when we should be looking forward to the home releases of all those films that thrilled us in May – July.  Except of course they didn’t. 

Its all frankly mind-boggling. Time to find a good book, maybe….

May the 4K be with you: The Empire Strikes Back

esb4kSome twenty years ago, I was on holiday in America, on the West Coast, and it was late at night. We were somewhere near Santa Barbara I think, stopping in a motel overnight, and we went across the road to a supermarket- I think it may have been a Walmart, I’m not sure. We’d gone away with Claire’s folks, and she was with them, looking around, and I’d gone off looking at the electronics/home entertainment section by myself. I walked past some televisions and heard John Williams music for Cloud City. The televisions were showing The Empire Strikes Back (possibly another boxset just recently released on VHS) and it was the scene with Han Solo calling to the pesky Cloud City security that he was looking for Lando Calrissian, and the music swept up as the Falcon flew through those beautiful skies of Bespin and landed. I could have wept. I suddenly had an overwhelming feeling of homesickness. It was so strange. I was in a strange town in a rather odd country on the other side of the world, and while I was enjoying myself greatly, suddenly I was in the midst of the familiar, the comforting- Empire the film felt like home. Nowadays whenever I see/hear that scene, it always throws me into that oddly lonely ‘space’ on holiday in America, go figure.

40 years. Its been 40 years, pretty much, since I first saw The Empire Strikes Back in the summer of 1980. I can so vividly recall the various previews in Starburst etc, the paperback novelisation, the Marvel comics adaptation, the soundtrack album, the Meco album, the poster magazines….

To be clear, my post has as much chance of not being biased as I have of bumping into Ridley Scott in Sainsburys tonight.

So full disclosure: I adore this movie, and consider it the best of the Star Wars franchise. Indeed, to me its more than just a movie, its more an audiovisual experience, amazing imagery with an incredible John Williams score (in my mind the best soundtrack score ever written) and those glorious Ben Burtt sound effects that somehow define the saga to me. Seriously, remove the dialogue track and just play the picture with the music and I’d be a happy camper. John Williams was at the very height of his powers here and this score, from start to finish, is just an extraordinary work. Empire has also got that great, incredibly young-looking cast (some of whom no longer with us, sadly) and that gorgeous cinematography (prettiest Star Wars movie, certainly) and yes, those breathtaking ILM effects. I’m confident the film has plenty of flaws but I can’t see them, don’t think I ever will; I think its perfect.

It also looks pretty amazing on this 4K UHD disc. Sure, I know there are plenty criticising it on forums, but really, I date from an era of b&w mono televisions and VHS and I think that allows a certain reality check; this 4K presentation is absolutely marvellous to me, the best I have ever seen the film, including those first cinema presentations, probably. I wasn’t going to buy this edition, until I caught a review online from someone that stated it was actually very good and nailed the colour grading of the original 70mm showings. Yeah, that got my attention,and I have to say, the author of that review/forum post, whoever he was, was damn right in my book. The Empire Strikes Back looks gorgeous here, the colours all de-saturated and no longer ‘blooming’ crazily as they used to do, even on the Blu-ray edition several years ago: the colour scheme here is much cooler, and looks much more authentic to me. Likewise the detail afforded by the additional resolution (I confess to picking up things I don’t recall ever seeing before) is a pleasure, and the restrained use of HDR very welcome.  I know some will analyse it frame by frame, bemoan things like DNR or crush or grain, but to me its a great film that’s never looked greater. There’s something weird going on in one shot with the Falcon on the landing pad at Cloud City when there’s a flash of light on the platform as the camera pans down, as if catching a flash of reflection that shouldn’t be there, but I don’t care. I had to put up with drop-outs and dodgy tracking and all sorts back in the VHS days and I adored that too. This is better. Its also on a 55″ panel, the biggest I’ve ever owned and possibly ever will (I watched and enjoyed Empire on a 28″ 4.3 CRT years ago so its all relative).

40 years though. I believe I’m getting to that age where some films are just unimpeachable. Its true that contrary to what media claims, Empire isn’t universally lauded as the best of the franchise (some very suspicious individuals somehow prefer Return of the Jedi), and I’m sure someone has written posts raising very good points ripping it apart, but to hell with any of that. To me its… well, I guess nostalgia rears its dangerous head here, but yeah, the film represents a bubble of spacetime, a sense of time and place and mood, the way things used to be, flavoured with that unique period of growing up and all that goes in with that. We identify with certain movies, especially those we grow up with, and yeah, as I found out on holiday back in 2001, they can even feel like home.

Jaws 4K UHD

jaws4kYou never know until you actually sit down to watch it, but every fan can relax, this is great. Another substantial 4K edition of a classic movie: Jaws looks fabulous in this new 4K release. Details are amazing, right down to the fabric on the clothes and textures on objects, and the HDR adds a vibrancy and depth to the image that is almost startling. Best of all, while grain is evident, it doesn’t degenerate into mosquito noise on my OLED as it tends to at times during other 4K editions of some classic films. I doubt the film looked anything near as good as this as when I saw it at the ABC in town back in 1976, or over the years since on VHS, DVD, Blu-ray etc… yeah, this is one of THOSE films that we just crave in whatever new format comes along. Well, I’m certain this is the last time.

Fantastic movie, mind. In my opinion its Spielberg’s best, by some margin. Maybe it was the adversity of the nightmarish shoot he had, filming this back in 1974 (well documented over the years in documentaries that appear on this disc- indeed, special features ported onto the actual 4K disc, we’re truly spoilt with this one). There does seem some pattern in film history with directors producing their best work in the face of great trial, which makes me wonder if they unconsciously coast somewhat when everything goes swimmingly (sic). Not that any of them would admit to that, but maybe some thrive under pressure, and its certainly true that Spielberg, forced to look at other ways of approaching the shark attacks when Bruce proved to be a troublesome star, improved the film no end by adopting a rather Hitchcock-like method. At the same time, it allowed the character actors to do their best and truly shine, avoiding them being overshadowed by any monster effects. There’s a sense of reality to the film that grounds it, regardless of the rather ridiculous premise.