Betty Blue comes to Region Free US Blu-ray complete with a 1080i High Definition video presentation in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of widescreen 1.66:1. Yes, the image won’t quite fit your screens, but, rather than having black bars on the top and bottom, we get tiny black bars on the left and right. Still, it was the original framing, in spite of the broader vistas which would have benefitted from a more conventional scope. The second thing you’ll note is that this is 1080i not 1080p, a fact which appears to be more evident in motion than in fairly stationary images. Generally this is a fairly decent presentation, with good detail on both the close-ups and the longer shots, and with no signs of edge enhancement or digital defects. There’s no softness, per se, and also no grain, but this latter fact is rather strange when you consider that the original movie must have boasted a heavy filmic sheen than this. It becomes apparent right from the get-go that there’s been some digital tinkering to polish up the transfer (which has purportedly been remastered) but the side-effect appears to be that skin takes on that slightly plastic-like look which is far from real. Still, you can largely forgive this as there’s no denying that the movie looks better than it has ever done before.
There are also some issues with regard to the faster motion in the film, as already noted. I don’t know whether this is just the fault of the presentation being 1080i only, but I’ve definitely seen it before – particularly with modern indie productions shot with a digital camera (e.g. Rachel Getting Married) – and it is quite frustrating. You won’t always notice it, but it’s just an extra level of blurring that occurs during the faster-moving moments, and it’s a shame that we get it with this particular movie. At the end of the day, with a rich (occasionally over-hot) colour scheme and reasonably solid blacks, what you have here is a mixed-bag presentation which shouldn’t put anybody off picking up the title, but would definitely give you pause for thought before giving up your SD-DVD copy of the Director’s Cut, particularly since all you have here is the Theatrical version.
In terms of aural accompaniment, Betty Blue comes with a fairly limited Dolby Digital 2.0 track in the movie’s original native French language. Initially I was massively disappointed with this, and it certainly holds the track back from being in any way immersive, but the end result is still fairly solid, and perhaps more authentically replicates the original presentation. Dialogue comes across clearly and coherently throughout, obviously only emanating from the fronts and centre channels, and effects – whilst expectedly limited – do get a little room to breathe in the array. The haunting score, with hints of Eric “Nikita” Serra, brooding saxophones, and that excellent central theme (as well as that twisted fairground bit) gets a remarkably good presentation too, despite the inherent channel restrictions, and the track is only really disappointing in terms of all-round engulfing atmosphere and overt bass, and perhaps, just perhaps, neither would be quite right for this movie in any event. Who knows, maybe somebody will pull out all the stops and give this film a spectacular video, and an HD audio presentation, and it will blow this release out of the water, but, until then, this is far from bad.
As an aside, we get optional English subtitles, printed out on the bottom of the screen in a rather odd yellow cartoon-esque style, with each letter having a strange 3D-ish shadow. After a while you’ll get used to them, but it’s still an odd choice, and, far worse, the subtitles are all occasionally utter nonsense, and this can be a little annoying. Still, I only noticed this a few times (3 that I can distinctly remember) so you should be ok for the most part.
In terms of extras there’s only one, but it’s a long one, a comprehensive, informative interview with the director where he spends the best part of an hour discussing his work. He talks at length about his history in films, how he got into the industry, his early work, and about making Betty Blue itself. He’s quite interesting but very opinionated, and I think I switched off about halfway through when he started talking down to Chris Nolan’s Batman movies (and the interviewer even joins in).
Betty Blue is a modern French classic, which has mostly deserved the critical acclaim and somewhat cult following that it has garnered over the years. Beyond just the quintessentially French trademarks of explicit sex scenes and abundant full-frontal nudity, the narrative explores some interesting themes of living on the fringe, artistic worth and slow-cooked madness, mixing it all up in a painfully tragic love story; but there's still something not quite right about the depiction of relationships - and the ostensibly feminist angle soon burns away to reveal what is, essentially, just male wish-fulfillment in an artistic package. Artistic it is, however, and you can't helped but be moved by the haunting imagery, the portentious tone and the overwhelming emotional content, and the end result is undeniably good, if not quite the masterpiece that it is often regarded as.
On Region Free US Blu-ray it's really difficult to recommend this disc. Clearly it's better than its preceding SD-DVD incarnations, but there are still significant flaws which will put many potential purchasers off - we don't get the hour-longer Director's Cut, the video is 1080i only and has some frustrating defects, the audio is just 2.0, the subtitles are far from perfect, and we're left with but one - admittedly hefty - extra feature (where the director reveals himself to be a little bit pretentious). If you don't own a copy of Betty Blue then this is still the one to pick up, but those with a decent quality SD-DVD copy of the Director's Cut may be hesitant to pick this mixed-bag release up.
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