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Kino's Blu-ray breathes new life into the film.
on October 22, 2016
This 1922 classic ranks only slightly before The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari as my favorite horror film of all time (the silents did it better, people!), so naturally I was eager to purchase the new Blu-ray version released by Kino Lorber, which has a terrific track record for bringing these silent gems to the public rather than treat them as outdated curiosities no modern audiences would find relevance in.
First off, while some misinformed members of the public would tell you that anything "pre-HD" does not benefit from Blu-ray's high-definition mastering process ("They didn't have HD in the 1920s!"), a short correction is necessary here: the 1990s and 2000s did not "invent" HD resolution. HD is simply a digital moniker telling one how many pixels are available in an image. The more pixels, the higher the resolution. When it comes to celluloid film, such as what Nosferatu and basically anything pre-2000s was shot on, once that film is scanned into a digital format via a machine, the amount of resolution in those frames of celluloid provide more digital pixels than our current HDTVs can even show you. In short, HD is a digital term and all FILM, when scanned to digital, exceeds HD requirements in terms of pixels.
So now that we have put to rest the idea that films like Nosferatu do not benefit from HD, let us delve into the actual Blu-ray.
Kino is notorious for doing very little cleanup on their silent film titles, as too much scrubbing to remove excessive scratches and dirt from the frames can smudge detail and lead to an inconsistent grain structure. Contrary to what you have have heard, grain on film is a good thing--it is the equivalent of a digital pixel. It makes up the detail in the image. Remove too much, and you end up with a low-resolution, waxy picture devoid of sharp detail and fine lines. This is not to say that Kino has released Nosferatu with blemishes and smudges that make the film unwatchable. It means they have cleaned the picture up just enough to allow you to see the increased detail HD provides without overly distracting elements like film splices and hairs getting in the way of your enjoyment.
The release will also be a shock to many who have been accustomed to seeing films like Nosferatu in stark black-and-white, as Kino's release (and previous DVD) is color tinted. This means some daytime shots are bathed in yellow and the nighttime photography is often blue. Don't mistake these alterations for useless revisionism--the original prints of the film, like many other silent films of the era, were tinted since color film, which did exist but was highly costly to utilize, was not the norm in the 1920s. In the case of this Blu-ray, the tints have been historically re-created to be true to the way Nosferatu would have looked in 1922.
In terms of soundtrack, we only get one score, with the option to listen to it in 5.1 surround sound or a more pared-down 2.0 version.
There has been some contention among fans that Kino created quite a blunder with this release by accidentally removing frames and chopping off an estimated 11% of the film. This stems from the fact that silent films were often projected at speeds of 18 frames per second as opposed to the modern 24 frames per second. To compensate, different algorithms are used to display these frames at the proper speed on modern television sets. Some fans have discovered that Kino inadvertently used an inferior process that results in frame jumps at intermittent points in the presentation, leading to a loss of a small portion of a scene that collectively add up to a loss of 11% of the frames over the course of the running time. They cite the UK's BFI Blu-ray as being free of this issue.
While I have only seen Nosferatu in black-and-white versions previously and have no way of viewing the non-region free UK release for comparison, I will say this: while there are occasional frame jumps such as a character seeming to magically skip forward a few steps when walking, for instance, these issues are not overly detrimental to the experience and are not quite as disastrous as they are made out to be. Kino, for their part, has not openly acknowledged an issue, despite being made aware of the problem, and many online reviewers whose job it is to review Blu-rays do not mention this being a problem or a concern. I scoured online reviews for this particular release for hours and could not come up with a single one that spoke negatively of the release in relation to this alleged framing issue. My conclusion is they were either completely ignorant of the problem (which lends credence to the fact it cannot be that noticeable offhand if none of them caught it), or they were aware of it but felt it was of negligible concern. If the issue were so horrible, surely one of them would have made note of it?
As for the image quality itself, the disc is gorgeous. The viewer is presented with two viewing options: a version with English inter-titles and the original German version with German inter-titles and English subtitles. I would recommend going for the latter, as it is the most authentic and also contains a bit more picture information at the top and bottom of the frame than the English version (and some say the resolution on this version is better, too).
With a beautiful 1080p picture and wonderful color tinting, this 1922 classic looks stunning in HD and Kino has done a commendable job breathing new life into this horror gem. For fans of the film or silent film lovers in general, this is a must-buy.