Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant Blu-ray Review
Thankfully, Universal's transfer totally smothers the lurid comic-book aesthetic of the film with a smorgasbord of eye-caressing, neon-pulsating colours and a terrific level of even finite detail that flatters both close-ups and distant figures.
The transfer is encoded via MPEG-4 and the good news is that, aside from some very minor edge sharpening, and the merest case of aliasing, the picture is excellent. Grain is retained and there is no indication of overt DNR having taken place. The 2.35:1 image is strong and free from smearing or banding. With blacks that are incredibly deep and thick, there is a slight possibility of crushing, but I would state that I had no problem discerning detail within the shadows. Contrast is always top-notch, too. There are many instances of bright colours injected into pitch-dark frames, or the pale faces of characters peeping out through the Stygian gloom, and this transfer copes admirably with such tests at all times. One such moment has the ginger of Crepsley's hair still apparent even during a massive swamping of thick, frame engulfing shadow.
As I have been making abundantly clear, this is a powerfully vibrant movie that thrives on its neon-like coverage. There is much to revel in here, spectrum-wise. From the red and blue of Octa to the snotty green of the snake-boy, from the gorgeous primaries that populate the circus to the soothing midnight tones of the many night-time scenes, and from the malevolent gleam in Murlough's eyes to the pallid, sweat burnishing of Mr. Tiny's flabby visage, this disc handles each and every colour, hue and tone of Weist's bright scheme marvellously. Quite simply, the film looks sumptuous and radiant - and never more so than when Salma Hayek, with beard or without, graces the screen with her latino colouring, raven-black hair and ribald gypsy dresses.
With detail that is consistently high and delightfully finite, there are times when the image boasts a wonderful depth and objectivity that is nicely three-dimensional, but there are also occasions when the film's own innate comic-book style renders it a little flat, despite the acres of sweltering colour and the boldness of those massively heavy shadows. But the clarity offered in the faces of the characters - the unpleasant skin of Mr. Tiny, the scars on Crepsley, the hideous bite that Octa gives one foolish interloper, the swarthy grime of Murlough, and the fly-scratching, scabies-ridden hide of the Wolf Man - is superlative. We've got pores on show and capillaries in eyes, and fine separation in the hair, should you happen to be into that sort of thing. The texture on material and clothing is also strictly adhered-to with an authenticity that can't help but be rewarding.
In short, this is a great image, folks. Both dark and colourful at the same time, but always reassuring atmospheric and unmolested by digital gremlins.
And there is nothing to complain about with the glorious DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that graces The Vampire's Assistant, either. Almost text-book in its presentation of detail, clarity, warmth, bombast and wraparound sonics, this proves to be a very entertaining and vivid track, folks, that really helps to bring the film to life.
Straight away, Steven Trask's score is full-bodied, free-flowing and widely spread around the set-up. There is even some terrific detail in the instrumentation that is a real bonus for score-lovers. The soundfield is wide and spacious, capturing the chaos of a high school corridor, the zaniness of the Cirque Du Freak show, itself, the various supernatural skirmishes and the whole surreal ambience with definite verve. Across the front, there is ample separation and a pleasing depth. Sound is well steered around the set-up and always comes over with a natural sense of dimensionality, and realism - well, as much realism as a vampiric battle can deliver, at any rate. Dialogue is clean, clear and bright at all times and directionally focussed and offering smooth pans and enjoyable transitions.
Effects-wise, the film's audio has plenty of highlights. The “flitting” about that the vamps do features a nice rush of sonics aross the soundscape. The rumble of thunder and the crack of lightning sizzle and press down upon the listener with believable presence. The many impacts of bodies, lashed tombstones, punches, slashes, kicks and slams all have weight and heft. Listen out for the great clang of a shovel in a face, and the pummelling impact of a truck/vampineze interface, as well as the gruff sound of masonry tumbling and of supernaturally enhanced fists punching through walls or slicing through tree-bark. There's a couple of nasty moments of fingernails raking across a chalkboard, too - the second of which actually has talons gouging open the surface - that may well set your teeth on edge.
The surround channels aren't neglected either. You've got things like Octa scurrying about, bodies whistling through the air, the snuffling of the shrunken little cowl-headed demons, as well as lots of other creepy noises, general hubbub and musical support to savour. And, just to add to all this, there is also a very firm and consistent sub-presence as well ensuring that the multitude of impacts carry some effective reverb and a rich degree of clout. Trask's score works in cahoots with the effects-track to provide a large ration of “stingers” and enveloping musical crescendos that also keep you on your toes.
I have to say that I was extremely pleased with this track. I'm not sure exactly what I had expected, having not experienced the film at the flicks, but this was a great all-round audio mix that provided a truly dynamic and terrifically detailed, well-prioritised treat. If I'm honest, some of the effects are obviously boosted, but this never harms the track in any way at all. A very solid 8 out of 10.
The U-control PiP track is a good one, even if it starts out with plentiful material that is onscreen almost constantly, and then peters-out into spits and spats of stuff slotted-in around some lengthy lulls. Mixing interviews - all the cast and crew get their say about the story, the original books, Paul Weitz's style and, ahem, working with one another - with on-set footage of shots being filmed, run-throughs, pep-talks and a fair amount of FX coverage - this is a pretty comprehensive look at the production. Watch out for the great time-lapse footage of Cerveris getting his fat-boy Mr. Tiny makeup applied, and listen to how the crew all still felt uncomfortably attracted to Salma Hayek even with the full beard! We also get to hear about the locations used and the problems with New Orleans' water-table.
The massive selection of Deleted Scenes are apparently exclusive to the Blu-ray release. We get 27 minutes of them. Mostly small scene extensions, alternate takes or character beats, there is, nevertheless, some interesting stuff to be found. We get more of Steve's unfortunate home-life, a slightly different approach to the film's introduction, a vision of Darren's double-jointedness, some rather superfluous and exposition-heavy prophesying and another killing or two. Oh, and a cool blood-supping sequence for Steve and Murlough.
We then get a Guide To Becoming A Vampire, which is a 3-part behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film that is, to be honest, little more than the same interviews culled from the PiP track, albeit with some new footage and an awful lot of scenes actually taken from the finished movie.
A little bit better is the 18-minute Tour Du Freak, which is exactly what it sounds like - a glimpse around the circus camp and a brief and humorous chronicle of how its various denizens came to be. Although there are still moments that we have seen before, this featurette has some of the cast cropping up, in-character, to say hello, and benefits from a narration done in the style of Tom Baker's classic Little Britain voiceover. Still, there's not much to gleaned from this that we didn't already know.
The disc is also enabled with pocket-BLU for interactivity with an iPhone or iPod Touch, as well as BD-Live and D-Box Motion Control.
All things considered, there is an awful lot of repetition with this selection which will certainly irritate some people. The PiP track is worthwhile, even if it is ultimately quite sporadic, and the deleted scenes are nothing if not generous. But the featurettes leave a fair bit to be desired.
5 out of 10.
Much more entertaining than many earlier reviews suggested, The Vampire's Assistant is an atmospheric and colourful romp through a twilight netherworld that may not be all that original but certainly offers up plenty of neo-gothic action and liberal doses of diabolical surrealism. A likeable cast provide life for an assortment of weird and wonderful characters and the comic-book approach is a fast and vibrant diversion from the dark drudgery of later Potters, the charmless scope of Narnia and the risible pouting of the Twi-hard brigade.
A fabulous transfer does the film proud, as well. With top-notch audio and a picture that throbs with energy, this disc brandishes its freaks with pride. The extras are certainly okay, but there really isn't all that much meat to get your teeth into, so to speak. But Paul Weitz's adaptation is certainly one of the more entertaining and less self-conscious to have come along. I can't comment on its faithfulness to the source, but then attempting to find an accessible way in to a 12-book series was hardly going to be an easy affair, and both Weitz and Brian Helgeland probably did the right thing in not going down the exacting “to-the-letter” approach of the first Potter films, and following the combination-route that Peter Weir took with Patrick O'Brien's celebrated Master And Commander series. Either way, The Vampire's Assistant: Cirque Du Freak is great stuff that only fumbles the ball in a final act that fails to complete things quite as successfully as it would like.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £22.93
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