The improvements made over the earlier DVD edition that Eureka put out are clear to see. The image, presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.19:1 has better contrast and detail throughout, leading to deeper and more stable blacks, a smoother grey-scale and tighter delineation across the board.
Encoded via AVC, this hi-def transfer is minted from a combination of two sources that have been housed in archives. Where the footage was damaged from one print, material from the other has been integrated. Without any doubt, this is the best that the film has ever looked on home video, and probably will look for a long, long time to come.
The image is very clear and sharp. Edges are nicely resolved, with no form of enhancement or sharpening to detract from the integrity of the print. Finite detail is surprisingly effective. This is a film that thrives on having lots of props and bric-a-brac in the frame to add greatly to the sense of evocation. Desks are cluttered with stuff, shelves are full of books, the basement operations room is brimming with pots, jars, machinery, tables, benches and detritus, and offices have lots of signs and documents and maps pinned to walls. The transfer is extremely adept at allowing us to investigate these set dressings. Look at the splinters of wood wrenched out of floorboards, or the thin streams of jetting water from a burst pipe. This level of attention also stretches to characters’ faces, eyes and clothes. Close-ups, especially those of Klein-Rogge’s haunted visage, have amazing clarity.
You will see that the focus of the photography, whilst excellent right across the board – be it of more intimate two-way exchanges or of flamboyant action scenes – is often more assuredly directed towards the central image, meaning that there can be shots when foreground, or peripheral detail becomes slightly blurred and indistinct. This is most noticeable with regards to pens, ashtrays and documents adorning the near edges of desks. But this is just how it was filmed, and no lapse of integrity on the part of the transfer. Bricks, woodwork, fine-print and material texture are all improved-upon from the image that came with the SD transfer a few years ago.
The disc handles contrast well, although you may find that car headlights can be a touch too bright and fuzzy. Blooming high-lights can still appear on faces, but this is only to be expected given the archaic lighting and photography. Shadows are often quite strong, and the image usually has a fine demarcation between light and shade, but there are also many instances when the darker portions of the image can become compromised by grey infiltration. Then again, this was present on the DVD transfer as well, so I would say that Eureka have done the best that they can with such older elements … without going down the road of artificially enhancing them.
The big explosion near the start is a wonderful image – if a trifle odd-looking with its frame of animated shockwave lines – but it comes across vividly and with a terrifically searing effect.
Damage is still present, of course. A few frame-wobbles are dotted about. Nothing too glaring. There are the usual pops and flecks fluttering across the picture, but there are a great many scenes that appear remarkably clean too. On a slight, though expected downside, there are some occasions when vertical lines striate the image for a second or two … and the odd stray hair waggling about the gate. However, the majority of the wear ‘n’ tear on the print comes in the form of flickering portions of the picture, and worn discoloration of certain elements. These happen at the sides of the image and don’t, by and large, present much in the way of distraction. You know the playing field when it comes to such vintage material, and Eureka’s BD for Testament is actually in much, much better condition and certainly more robust than many films that hail from the era.
We can’t really discuss all that much about the DTS-HD MA 2.0 track that accompanies the film due to the extremely limited nature of the vintage sound-design.
Yet, with that in mind, this is still quite a dynamic movie, with lots of action to it, so you say that Lang wasn’t ambitious. Gunshots have a sharp, though understandably “contained” report. The explosion near the start makes for an appreciable sudden shock effect, but it, too, is similarly submerged with no scope for added weight or bombast. A slab of concrete dropped from high up, and intended to flatten an informer, provides a bit of jolting impact, though.
Dialogue is naturally tinny and low, with some crackling to the more heated exchanges of shouting and screaming. There is never a moment when it is drowned-out or lost, however. I mentioned that scene when Lohmann is hurling abuse after a tractor-trailer gets in the way of his high-speed pursuit, but it is worth stating again that his tirade is intentionally, and comically, lost in the overall cacophony and only returns once the long vehicle has trundled out of the shot.
Hiss rears up on occasion, but is never detrimental to the flow of the narrative. There is little in the way of drop-out, and the overall volume is pretty much consistent.
Eureka’s disc makes the best out of very old elements. No complaints here.
This is a Duel-Format release with BD and DVD versions of the film.
Sadly, we don’t get much in the way of supplements. There is the same excellent commentary track from film-scholar and Fritz Lang authority, David Kalat, and a tremendous 52-page booklet boasting the words of Lang, himself, as well as essays from historians regarding the style and impact of the film. Much of this also appeared in the previous Mabuse boxset, but it has been expanded-upon here.
Certainly the best of Lang’s three Mabuse movies, Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse is full of intrigue, mystery, thrills and spills. The supernatural angle is brilliantly exploited and the imagery, as you would expect from the shadow-meister Lang, is spellbinding. Despite its vintage, the film also feels profoundly modern and fresh. There is absolutely none of the “staginess” that Hollywood films of the period were rife with. This is fast, engaging, often amusing and full of splendid visual touches and keep the complex and inventive affair moving with style and aplomb to spare.
The influence of the Dr. Mabuse series, especially the first two and this one in particular, has been far-reaching, permeating the themes and visual styles found in the likes of Batman and James Bond amongst a great many other films, books and TV shows. Lang, of course, was one of the founders of cinematic Science Fiction and his visual artistry is on fine form here in a movie that juxtaposes modern German society with bold and nefarious grand-criminality and a superb penchant for the mystical, the eerie and the downright prescient.
Eureka’s BD is a splendid one. The image shows a smart upgrade over the DVD, with much improved detail and definition and better contrast. The extras are familiar, but welcome.
Das Testament des Dr. Mabusecomes very highly recommended.
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