PictureNew Line/Warner brings A History of Violence to Blu-ray with a 1080p image encoded using the VC-1 codec and utilising a 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
Unfortunately, for those familiar with other titles from New Line/Warner, there is a healthy dose of digital noise reduction apparent here. It is by no means the worst that has been seen but it is still distracting none the less. Faces appear waxy without much of the fine detail we have come to associate with a high definition disc. Clothing also suffers, with fabric also seemingly lacking intricacy, instead becoming more consistent and uniform in its nature. Ed Harris has a fairly grizzled face at the best of times, but even the side unadorned with the theatrical make up required for the role shows a scarcity of the familiar minutiae we're accustomed to seeing, having instead a rather clay like look.
On the plus side, colours are far better than those found on the DVD. Generally quite muted, this appears intentional on the part of the director as opposed to an error of over-saturation on the part of the Blu-ray. Bold colours are apparent though as the wood panelling of Richie's mansion comes across as deep and radiates warmth. Similarly blood, though not dwelled upon, has a greater visceral impact than on the DVD, with a thick rich red colouring and a pleasing solidity to it. Blacks and whites are generally very strong without crushing or blooming becoming a problem.
The colours do their best to rescue this disc's visual presentation and they nearly do so. However, one cannot ignore the DNR and edge enhancement that raises its head so prominently. What could have been a three dimensional image that had the “pop” that we all look for, instead falls rather flat upon the screen. It is not that it lacks depth per se, but rather that the processing techniques create an almost diorama-like effect whereby there is a distinct object clearly picked out in the foreground, then a space before a seemingly painted flat background. There is still detail within, but the distraction comes from wondering just how much has been lost due to this process given the amount evident in similarly recent films that haven't had this technique applied. It doesn't truly spoil the film, and if you aren't a fan of grain then you may well rate this higher, but, for me, it only lessens the cinematic experience.
SoundThe grass is certainly greener on the audio side of the street. Being graced with a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track, A History of Violence has received all it could likely wish for when it comes to food for the ear.
With the benefit of a score by Howard Shore (who later went on to pen the haunting music that would accompany the other Cronenberg/Mortensen crime drama, Eastern Promises), the sounds never push past the dialogue. Being a character driven drama of some intensity, the hushed tone of speech and gentle sweeps of the score beg to be treated with a degree of respect and that's exactly what this disc delivers. Voices are always distinct and clear, never muddying but also not encroaching too far in terms of volume that they are over emphasized.
The rears come into play in various scenes and have a pleasant finesse to them, always picking out minor details with precision without pulling this away from being primarily a front soundstage movie. The majority of the action will come from the centre, with the aforementioned rears gently creating a sense of depth when needed. For such a stirring title, the violence isn't particularly prevalent in this film and as such, the use of LFE is sporadic. When it is called into action it gives a decent punch and has considerable weight behind it, helping the brutality to have a real impact.
Overall, clear dialogue, accurate rear effects and healthy bass when necessary all combine to create a fine sound that envelopes enough but doesn't push beyond what the film asks of it.
ExtrasCommentary with David Cronenberg
You know you are to be treated to an informative commentary when the speaker has interesting titbits from the very first moment an image appears on screen. Too often you can sit through thirty seconds of the film before assuming you have chosen the wrong audio track given the silence from those supposed to be commentating. Here, Cronenberg starts giving us informative facts and musings even with regards the New Line logo and the style of opening credits used and only continues from there. Excellent.
Violence's history; United States version vs. International version - 480p - 1:24
We get to see the two shots (Charlie's nose smashed into his skull and Richie's henchman having his neck stomped on) that the MPAA felt could be “softened” for the US release and get to compare them to their international counterparts. Both have the same running time, but merely differ in minor terms with an extra blood spurt and an added crunching sound effect. Cronenberg explains that because the details were so minimal, there really was no point putting two versions of the film on the disc.
Too commercial for Cannes - 480p - 8:54
We follow Cronenberg as he prepares for the showing at the Cannes film festival. He diligently checks the screen brightness, sound level and sharpness of projection and proceeds to give the standard whirlwind of multiple interviews and photo calls. A nice feature that provides an insider's view of the trepidation prior to the screening followed by the standing ovation it received, all the while Cronenberg is genial and light hearted.
Acts of violence - 480p - 1:06:00
Key scenes (eight in total) listed in chronological order are pored over and dissected by the cast and crew. It gives an amazing insight into just how fluid Cronenberg's directional style is. No painstakingly planned storyboards are apparent, but rather a man following run throughs given by actors with a viewing lens held firmly to his eye. He wanders, looking for the right shot, whilst the actors themselves enjoy the freedom to chime in and make suggestions, evolving the scene with him.
We get some fantastic behind the scenes footage of the make up used and the techniques employed to create the visceral and brutal sense of impact in the fight scenes. It is also a pleasure to have such access to things such as the tapes of Bello's relatives whom Mortensen visited as part of his research into the role of a Philadelphian. There's probably too much to list here as every few moments brings with it a gem of insight into the production, the plotting, the characters or even the cast and crew themselves.
Scene 44 deleted scene - 1080p - 2:47
A dream sequence in which Stall kills Fogarty after his family have been threatened by said gangster. It is nice to see that the sequence was finished, with music and the like even though it was known quite early on that it would not be used. In truth, it actually seems like something from a previous Cronenberg piece and jars here. It is evident why it was taken out as even if it fitted, the effect comes across as a little hammy and unconvincing.
Scene 44 deleted scene with commentary by David Cronenberg
The above scene but with added commentary by the director. He tells us why it didn't make the final cut and why he chose to finish it anyway.
The unmaking of scene 44 - 480p - 7:05
Understandably, covers some of the same ground as the commentary of the deleted scene, however we do get to see how the effect was produced and the process behind the scene.
Theatrical trailer - 480p - 2:24
Pretty self explanatory.
Unlike many discs, the extra features here are extremely well laid out. They are helpfully arranged into three sub sections - Behind the Story, Acts of Violence and Additional Footage. Each tells you quite clearly which part of the production you are looking at and it really helps to get a sense of the development process as well as analysing the finished piece. The commentary is a delight and throughout all the extras, Cronenberg comes across extremely well, with a healthy dose of humour and a relaxed personality. You could quite honestly sit through ten times the amount of extras anywhere else and not find the wealth of interesting information that is offered here and in such a pleasing manner. No EPK and no persistent back slapping, just solid behind the scenes footage and thoughtful musings on the subjects raised by cast and crew alike.
VerdictThe film itself is an altogether worthy piece of cinema that does its best to both entertain and challenge the viewer. It stands as one of Cronenberg's more mature offerings and takes all the honed skills he has amassed in his previous body horror narratives of physical transformation and replaced the external form of twisted shape shifting horrors with psychological and emotional transmutation. The shapes of persona are the bodies that are now twisted beyond recognition and the effects are thus far harder to read, yet the actors and director have somehow made the minutiae of these shifts infinitely visible to those prepared to invest the time to not only watch but also think about the issues involved.
Whether you think the potential flaws stand up to scrutiny is perhaps entirely a personal matter. Whilst I could accept the idea that this was in tune with the classic Westerns of yore and as such the relationships would occasionally border on the saccharine, the interviews in the extras portrayed a slightly different take which leads one to guess that the depiction of the marriage missed its mark slightly when establishing the back story. Whichever way, the fact that it can be argued shows the depth to this film and how far the themes can be extrapolated and mused over without breaking the spell of it being a cohesive work no matter how you view the constituent aspects of it.
The picture, unfortunately, doesn't fare quite so well. It is definitely a step up from the DVD in terms of colour and detail but given the amount of truly great transfers out there that remain un-tampered with or have been treated with a deftly light touch when processing techniques are applied, this falls short. I would rather have black crush, low shadow depth and the like than a film that takes the central ever present essentials - the actors' faces in this character driven piece - and leaves them looking simply odd. It isn't the worst example of DNR that you'll see and the film is still perfectly enjoyable. It just isn't quite what this work deserves, which is in stark contrast to the sound. There we encounter a mix that has just the right amount of effects and bass whilst never moving too far from the dialogue yet still creating enough of a cocoon to ensconce the viewer in a reasonable bubble when watching.
Extras are amongst the best I've seen, being laid out in an understandable manner. There are no occasions where a “behind the scenes” turns out to be nothing more than a post production segment of talking heads praising each other. Cronenberg remains an ever present figure throughout and his laid back charisma seeps from the screen. He clearly knows how to get the best from his actors and we get to see a great slice of how the working relationships on set combine to produce the finished article.
Overall, a fantastic film full of entertainment and thought provoking themes, with a somewhat less than stellar picture, good audio and some truly great extras. An unbalanced package, but I suppose it all depends on what aspects you consider the most important.
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