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TGE BluRay - The Good, The Bad and The Questionable
on May 6, 2013
I received my Blu Ray copy of this classic film today, May 6, one day before the actual release day of May 7. Thank you, amazon!
I'd also mention that I pre-ordered this BD with Amazon's price guarantee. I noticed that the BD was put on sale yesterday morning at amazon for only $9.99, which was less than the $14.99 I had paid on pre-order. I assumed I would get the lower price, but when my BD shipped last night, it was at the higher price. I dashed off an e-mail to amazon's customer service last night, and by this morning, I had a response AND a credit of $6.71 toward my Visa card to give me the lower price of $9.99! Thank you AGAIN, amazon! Now, THAT'S customer service!
Props to amazon duly noted, on to the review:
I've now watched the BD of the film twice, and I find myself largely in agreement with the review that is up at Bluray.com. The soundtrack sounds very good, especially for a 50-year-old film. The music comes through powerfully, especially the bass end, which is smooth, not boomy. Dialogue is crisp and clear, which makes for a nice listening experience.
That's the good.
The bad - unfortunately - has to do with the picture quality. The opening credit shot is really excellent, and it got my hopes up that Fox had done a good job of cleaning up the film and sharpening the picture. Things continue in fine fettle as we reach the prison camp, with the opening scenes at the camp looking sharp. The initial scene of Hilts and Ives (The Mole) in the cooler looks good as well - I had forgotten about their extended dialogue in this opening scene in the cooler (is this scene sometimes cut when shown on TV?).
As the film progresses, the picture quality varies, most often being not much better than that which was on the DVD. The worst scene picture-quality-wise has to be the exterior footage in the 4th of July scene, where the prisoners imbibe in some moonshine and the "Tom" tunnel is discovered by the German guard, Werner. The interior shots in this scene are much crisper than the exterior shots, no doubt because they were shot on the sound stage while the exteriors obviously were not. The exterior shots are almost blurry at some points, at least to the extent that a Blu Ray image can be blurry. Perhaps this is an accurate representation of what was shot by John Sturges, but I'm not convinced. I had really hoped for something a bit better.
I'm no expert, but it looks to me like DNR has been used in the BD mastering of this film. I say that because the faces just don't have the kind of detail and rawness that one sees in the best 4K and 6K restorations. The faces aren't as washed out and waxy as I've seen on some BDs, but the detail just isn't there.
The above noted, the picture throughout the movie is still steadier, crisper and clearer than it was in the VHS and DVD versions, at least the ones I've owned (I never owned the 2-DVD CE). Maybe this is the best we can hope for in this age of BDs being shoved out the door ASAP before the hardcopy industry collapses and online/streaming video takes over. I just expected higher and more consistent picture quality for this 50th-Anniversary, initial BD release of this very popular film.
And so, the questions arise: why wasn't a major restoration done on this film? Why was DNR employed when I thought we'd gotten beyond that? Will the Steelbook version due out in June be any better visually than this just-released Blu Ray? The answers to those three questions are, sadly, 1. major restorations are very expensive; 2. if you're not going to do a real restoration, DNR is a cheap substitute that won't bother most people, and; 3. the Steelbook version will probably include this same BD.
As far as the extras on this BD, they're the same extras that were on the DVD, all 8 of them. One wishes that Fox had put the extras on a separate DVD and used the entire 50GBs of the dual-layer BD to allow more information for the movie itself. But I guess they didn't have to do that as they used DNR in the mastering process and didn't really have extra data to eat up the storage space on the BD.
One final note about the menus: the BD boots up and immediately goes right into playing the film. I prefer that over the endless previews that are loaded onto many BDs and DVDs - who is going to watch those previews once a BD is a few years old? The menus for the "extras" are all accessed while the film is starting to play, which feels sorta cheap. If one wants to back out of an extra, you're sent back to the film to access any other extras. It gives me more appreciation for the sophisticated menus one gets on, say, Disney product. But then, there aren't many Disney products around that get discounted to under $10.
I can muster only three stars for the BluRay of this classic movie: 4.5 stars for the big improvement in the soundtrack, mitigated by the visual issues noted above.