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February 18, 2009

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bill

This might be considered off-topic, but...

"The House Bunny, Tropic Thunder, Space Buddies."

I get "The House Bunny", because of Anna Faris, and all, and I really liked "Tropic Thunder" (though I know you didn't)...but "Space Buddies"??

Fox

This reminds me of the way George Lucas screwed with THX 1138 when he added monkey men and Ferarris to the movie. In his mind - and I presume in Friedkin's - he is improving the film, but THX 1138 already at least looked amazing. (I'm unsure if you can still buy the original on DVD or if just the revisioned version is available.)

Now, I kinda thought Lucas was a isolated case of madness, but to know that Friedkin can't see the distinction in what he is doing is kinda scary. I don't have a Blu-ray yet, so I haven't encountered this situations before. In fact, it never crossed my mind.

I mean, am I to believe that For a Few Dollars More to Blue Velvet are gonna come out on Blu-ray looking like they've been polished with wax? Is that what Blu-ray does? Cuz, visually, that damages the intent of both films.

Robert

At which point can we (as a collective society) expect you Mr. Friedkin, Mr. Lucas, Mr. Coppola, Mr. Harryhausen and the rest to stop taking away our shared collective movie going experiences?

So maybe Mr. Lean should have been provided the opportunity to tighten up that long desert movie of his?

The First Bill C

Apropos, while the GANGS OF NEW YORK disc is a disgrace, that RAGING BULL Blu-ray that just came out is freakin' gorgeous.

Glenn Kenny

@The First Bill C: Yes, the Blu-ray "Raging Bull" is indeed magnifico; I intend to write a bit about it soon.

@ Bill: The "Space Buddies" mention was just to see if anybody was paying attention. But, you know, Disney does often put out a snazzy Blu-ray, even with material of this sort...

bill

So since I was paying attention, what do I win? I bet it's something good!

Tony Dayoub

This reconception sounds almost as bad as Walter Hill's awful revision of "The Warriors". Anyone catch that one?

Campaspe

Tony, noooo! not the Warriors! what on earth did he do?

Campaspe

Adding, Robert raises an interesting point. When Ted Turner was on his colorization kick a couple of decades ago, John Huston (there he is again) called the very idea "as great an impertinence as for someone to wash flesh tones on a da Vinci drawing." But really, what's the difference, from point of view of the audience, between Turner and Friedkin, if both result in a movie that is radically different from what the audience originally took to its heart? Ethically of course it's much less of a sin for a creator to come up with more ideas later, than for somebody to be doing a paint-by-numbers on a film by a long-dead group of artists. (Although I suspect this sort of thing is also a way for a director to keep himself in the cultural conversation. Current work not as buzz-building as the past? Muck around with the old stuff, that'll get 'em talking about you again.) Other times it genuinely might just be second thoughts, like Robert Graves radically altering "Goodbye to All That" later in life.

We say that Friedkin has a right to do it, and he does, legally and in some sense ethically too, but doesn't the audience in turn have a right to have the original version equally available, in the same formats?

I am just putting this stuff out, hoping to hear others' thoughts pro or con, because it is interesting to me. I don't really care if Friedkin has made a funny-looking French Connection, as long as the old one is still around. I wouldn't mind seeing this version but I am with Huston, I think it's impertinent to tell an audience that what it has loved for 40 years could still stand some improvement. So my worry would be the same one I keep striking regularly, like a gong--availability. When the execrable 1960s remake of Stagecoach was released, the studio withdrew the Ford from circulation and there it stayed for some time. I'd hate to face a future where quixotic late-stage tinkerings are all that's readily available. Maybe that's just the curmudgeon in me. Then again, I AM still waiting for a lot of stuff on DVD.

Steven Santos

As much as I feel going back and changing past works has been hit and miss, I do not feel the director really does have an obligation to have the original version equally available. Ultimately, it is the director's choice, whether we like it or not. For the most part, directors usually provide the original version on DVD, as they want to sell as many discs as possible. Personally, I'd prefer to have all versions available even if I'm only going to revisit the version I prefer. I wouldn't want to go back and watch "Blade Runner" with Harrison Ford's gun-to-his-head voiceover ever again, but I can if I want to.

This controversy over "French Connection" is probably the first I've known about revisiting older works that has to do with color timing and not re-editing. The only true HD stills I can find are here (no comparisons to the earlier version though):

http://tinyurl.com/avtgly

Judging as someone who works as an editor and has some experience studying HD images, I would say the grain looks almost too sharp and overprocessed. It was as if they were trying to make a movie that was shot documentary-style with not the most optimal focus try to feel like it was shot on film stocks and lenses used in movies today.

I've seen that look (you have to look at the images at the link which are 1920X1080) when I've applied a Sharpen filter on a soft focus video image in Photoshop. It looks a little to me like manufactured grain as opposed to maintaining the original film grain, the details of which got lost when they "defocused the color" (would like to know what this really means) at the start of the process.

The initial oversaturation and defocusing seems to be the what made the skin tones look waxy. Also, I would say that boosting saturation on the image (especially if there wasn't much range to work with in the original source) is going to add digital artifacts that aren't going to hold up well when the HD master is compressed during the encoding process to fit on a Blu-Ray disc.

Granted, this is all based on the still images. If I actually saw the disc on an HD screen (which I don't have), I can have a better idea of what's going on.

Glenn Kenny

@Campaspe and Steven: Both your perspectives are interesting. I'd have to do quite a bit more referencing and thinking before even trying to render a purely ethical opinion on the issue. And of course there is quite a bit more to consider in these cases than pure ethical considerations. Capital, of course is a concern, and there's always the question of who's actually got control of the material. Coming out of that thicket, we then get into aesthetic/ethical matters. What of the directors, such as Spielberg (in the case of "Raiders") or Gilliam ("Munchausen") who use digital technology for cosmetic/gaffe fixes, and what's the degree of separation from that to a complete overhauling of a film's look. It's interesting—one thing I don't think made it into my Pop Mechanics piece had to do with the Blu-ray of "The SIxth Day" and how the people behind the film deliberately engineered the disc to have more "Big Box" store appeal, as it were. So different considerations inform different decisions in this area, for sure...

Tony Dayoub

@Campaspe,

Re: "The Warriors": Back in 2005, Hill reworked it for release as "The Ultimate Director's Cut." I honestly don't know if he added previously cut footage or not because I didn't make it that far into the film. He added animated transitions between scenes designed to look like comic book frames. In a featurette included on the disc, he stated that this was in keeping with the story's comic book roots (which frankly, rang a little false). More likely it had to do with cross-promoing the simultaneous release of "The Warriors" Xbox game.

Worst part is that this is the only version currently available on Blu-ray.

Campaspe

Steven, ethically speaking I am not sure I would say it's entirely the director's choice, although this probably crab-walks into auteur theory. Glenn touches on this--if a director goes back and re-cuts something that was already well-loved, is that automatically all right, assuming he has the contractual ability? What about all the many things that can be done to alter an actor's performance?

Good or great artists are able to come up with all sorts of variations on things, like Monet painting water lilies over and over. So let's say a director, outranking everyone else on the picture, should be able to noodle as long as s/he's breathing and take the prior version off the table. Is it valid for the audience to ask whether this actually provides them with versions that are better than the original, or just gives the director a chance to tinker forever, audience be damned?

One thing seems certain, the digital age is only going to get harder for purists.

Steven Santos

Campaspe, my take on this dilemma was more about what I felt was ethical, as opposed to what I feel was right, if you know what I mean. Although I'm going to have my particular preference as to which version of a movie is the best, I will never have the right to dictate which is actually the official version. Personally, I feel any version of a movie should be preserved simply for historical purposes and to give moviegoers a choice as to what they want to watch.

I do feel that, as filmmaking technology has advanced, it has made directors more indecisive. Which is why movies from the old days weren't often recut after their release. Nowadays, movies are shot with more coverage and takes, plus we have special effects and, in this case, more color correction tools at our disposal. I would say editing is used more and more these days to reshape material, as well as a means to try to correct mistakes made during production. Although kicking the can to the edit room doesn't often solve script and directorial issues as much as some directors would hope.

I believe this is why we seem to get the feeling that directors tinker their work to the point of alienating audiences. I get the feeling directors see this as trying to be a perfectionist, while I sometimes feel they simply have more tools to justify not sticking to their original decisions. That said, there have still been more than a few instances where directors rework what they feel was compromised on initial release and the film improves considerably.

I do think this is only the beginning of the debate, as we see more classics released on Blu-Ray.

Dave Kehr

Hi, Glenn,

I have an interview with Friedkin coming out on Feb. 22 in the New York Times in which he talks about his decision to re-time "The French Connection." He says he was inspired by Osward Morris's work on John Huston's "Moby Dick," where they introduced a black-and-white layer to the three-strip Technicolor printing, and says he's used the same process on every video transfer of his work that he's supervised since "The Hunted." I'm not sure that I prefer the new version -- to me, it looks like someone remembering "what the 70s were like" instead of someone in the middle of them -- but I can't object to Friedkin's willingness to revisit his work, which is still very much alive for him. Anyhow, it isn't like the old transfer is going to disappear from the face of the earth. I know I'm holding on to my copy.

Glenn Kenny

Hey Dave—

I look forward to reading the interview.

As a fellow cowl-wearer (for those playing at home, Dave and I are semi-regularly referred to as grain-purist "monks" by the frequently dyspeptic, above-cited Jeff Wells) I'm not outraged by the new transfer, but one has to admit it's certainly DIFFERENT. At particular moments—that bit in the parking lot when Popeye yells at the woman (hooker?) in the go-go boots passing him by—the black-and-white elements seem to take over almost entirely, leaving mere smidges of color. I can understand how this sort of thing might drive a certain type of Blu-ray buyer right up the wall, which is why including a good high-def transfer of something that looked more like the theatrical release would have made, if nothing else, good marketing sense.

Dan

You see, shit like this is why I refuse to buy a Blu-Ray player. I'm tired of encouraging filmmakers to go back and revise their work. You finished it thirty years ago! Stop tinkering! Leave it alone!

Peter Debruge

Excuse me, I know this is a silly quibble, but why do studios keep releasing multi-disc Blu-ray editions? I'm pretty sure they're nowhere near filling the 50Gb capacity with most of their discs, and yet they keep breaking them up.

Did that Blade Runner set really require FIVE Blu-ray discs? Do consumers really think they're getting more for their money if the extras are separated out on additional platters? Is it that much more expensive to design a separate Blu-ray menu (presumably the reason Dreamgirls came out on two discs)?

I throw out all my boxes and file the discs away (with something like 2,000 DVDs, you kinda have to), so for me, one of the big upsides of Blu-ray is finally being able to fit extras and everything on a single disc. Come on, Blu-ray, get with the program!

Ryan Kelly

So Friedkin's just another damned revisionist historian.

Glenn Kenny

@Peter: I think I can actually answer your question, although not ENTIRELY to your satisfaction. It's true, the 50G storage capacity of a Blu-ray disc is large enough that one might think it would make the double or triple disc set a thing of the past. However, in order to cut down on potential compression artifacts and such, some manufacturers will want to take up close to the maximum amount of "space" on the disc for the feature. It varies. The new Blu-ray of "Raging Bull, " for instance, puts the feature and all the voluminous extras from the prior multi-disc SD edition on one disc...and the film presentation itself doesn't suffer at all for it. I imagine the people behind the "Blade Runner" set have what they believe is a sound rationale for the multi-disc presentation. But it's true, I think, more often than not that a lot of "Special Two-DIsc Edition!" Blu rays are just marketing ploys.

Owain Wilson

It's always the films you love.

The First Bill C

So I just finished watching the TFC BD and...yeah, it's pretty fugly. Almost as irksome, to me, is that now there's even less stylistic continuity between it and the sequel, which also streets on Blu-ray next week. It looks marvy, by the way.

Cadavra

Here's my suggestion: fuck color. Shoot everything in black-and-white. Color problem solved.

Campaspe

Cadavra, the Siren likes the way you think. Since Technicolor is gone why bother anymore? :D

Brian Zitzelman

Anyone have a clue if he's going to be messing with the colors for The Exorcist when that hits blu-ray?

Glenn Kenny

He's messed with The Exorcist plenty already; see "The Version You've Never Seen" 2000 DVD, now the only DVD extant. If that's the version that ends up on the Blu-ray, I'm skipping it. Feh.

Tony Dayoub

Glenn, I just got my copy of the Blu-ray today, and I have to tell you, I really didn't find the color timing to be too different. Sure the grain seems a little grittier. But it often seemed like a very subtle change. I had to blink 3-4 times to see the difference as Friedkin toggled between the original picture and the revised one in his documentary.

Certainly this doesn't make the same impact as Storaro's revisionism, or even the "Gangs of New York" you cite. And it actually seems well-intentioned (unlike his Exorcist revision).

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