Don't Look Now - Special Edition Blu-ray Review
Don’t Look Now comes to UK Region B-locked Blu-ray courtesy of Optimum Home Entertainment and their Vintage Classics range, and since the title has been out for several months, anybody who already owns it will likely know exactly what I’m going to say. Basically, it isn’t quite the perfect newly-minted, restored transfer that fans were hoping for. That said, it’s hard to deny that it is an improvement over previous SD-DVD releases. The only question is: what went wrong?
Apparently director Nicholas Roeg personally supervised and approved the restoration, but, as was the question on the lips of many a viewer back when the Fellowship of the Ring Extended Edition hit Blu-ray and Jackson said much the same thing, did anything happen after he left the restoration process? Because the end result is odd, to say the least. What we have is an inconsistently good picture, peppered with shots that boast with excellent, unparalleled detail which would blast any previous SD-DVD release out of the water...were it not for a rather unpleasant and variable layers of noise/grain that plague the image. It’s difficult to say how we ended up here. Indeed, the image looks like it has been scrubbed fairly heavily using DNR tools – something which removed much of the original grain and did not leave the as much detail as we would have liked (as stated, it still looks like considerably more than on previous Standard Def releases) – but then we also have, for some peculiar reason, a inconsistent layer of noise which sporadically overwhelms the image, not just undoing most of the visual improvements which came as part of the restoration process, but actually making the film quite an dissatisfying one to watch. Even though a plethora of screen captures did the rounds a few months’ back, the true test comes in motion, as the film looks better than merely the sum of its frozen composite – watching it in motion does fill in a lot of the gaps and makes the image look, generally, considerably better, but it does not make up for the fact that some (and not all, mind you) scenes look truly awful, the image varying from reasonably good to shockingly soft; quite textured to heavily overlaid in noise; fairly naturalistic to unquestionably distorted – all almost on a whim, as lighting and setting seldom have any consistent effect on the variable presentation. And it’s made more of a shame because Roeg’s work is all about the visuals, so to have them degraded in any way really must have been quite a shock to fans.
When push comes to shove, again I state that few would deny that this is still, overall, something of an improvement over prior SD-DVD releases, but that’s not really the point when everybody knows full well that the image could look considerably better.
On the aural front things are considerably clearer, but still far from perfect. To accompany the movie for this release we get a LPCM 2.0 Stereo track which is leagues ahead of any of the earlier predecessors’ mono offerings. The movie has always been plagued by odd audio idiosyncrasies – the dialogue has never been crystal clear throughout; it has frequently and noticeably been muffled by background atmospheric interference; and screams adopt a shrill, piercing and overly unnatural feel – and those are still mostly present here, but the overall impression is that this is nonetheless a significant improvement, which showcases better dynamics and better fidelity. It still feels like the track has been over-processed, and there are inherent limitations with the scope of the mix – with the LFE channel practically never utilised until the end title music! – but there is nevertheless a clear improvement here.
For this Special Edition at least there are absolutely no complaints in regards to the extras package, which ports over all the previously released SD-DVD extras as well as incorporating some significant new additions.
As per the DVD release, we get a 7 minute introduction to the film by critic Alan Jones, who sets the tone nicely.
Again, a previously available track, this decent offering sees the director Nicholas Roeg partnered up with another film critic, Adam Smith, to discuss various aspects of the production – from the shoot to the style, the imagery to the subtext, debating the themes and relevance and generally providing a great accompaniment to the main feature, particularly for fans of the movie.
Looking Back is a 20 minute retrospective Featurette, also previously compiled for the DVD, which also has the director on hand to further discuss his production, explaining the themes that were of paramount importance to him – namely the grief aspect of the drama – and the atypical story on offer. We also get to hear from many of the other contributing film crew, who further look into the more controversial aspects of the movie – notably that sex scene – as well as the unusual editing done for this piece. The lack of cast participation is a bit disappointing, but the director’s personal touch makes all the difference in this decent, if marginally short, extra.
Nothing Is As It Seems is a highly unusual offering, taking 16 minutes to offer up input from Dr. Colin Parkes, a psychiatrist, who analyses the psychological themes in the movie; he comments on the nature of the relationship between the couple, and the different stages of grief – this is a fascinating, insightful look at this integral part of the movie.
This is where the meat of the new material comes in, with some very interesting new interviews provided by Danny Boyle (who waxes lyrical about a film that has clearly had a great deal of influence on him as a director), Screenwriter/Producer Allan Scott, Cinematographer Tony Richmond and star Donald Sutherland himself (as well as including the old, previously-available interview from the Composer Pino Donaggio). Although of various lengths, they are all at least a quarter of an hour long, and offer up a wealth of information, most of which is quality, retrospective analysis, hindsight reflections and anecdotal memories.
Finally we get the original Theatrical Trailer as well as a very respectfully-made 5 minute ‘Compressed Version’ of the main film, which was put together for the BAFTA Awards.
An almost universally acclaimed psychological horror classic, Nicolas Roeg's third film is often regarded as his finest work. It certainly boasts his non-linear narrative trademarks, his editing style and visual flourish, and, more importantly, it utilises them to enhance a plot which directly requires such a fractured format: a tale of clairvoyance and somewhat supernatural happenings, all founded on the backbone of a grieving couple who have escaped to Venice; their grief played out in an extraordinarily realistic fashion through standout performances from the two leads.
Personally, despite every attempt to react otherwise, I didn't really like Don't Look Now; it just did not have the intended effect for me, and I expected more than it delivered, particularly when it comes to the contentious ending, which brought the whole film down no end in my esteem. That said, I can appreciate the technical merits of the production itself, its obvious highlights as a work of art, and its critical and public acclaim. It just didn't work for me.
The Region B-locked UK release that Optimum have come out with is almost as controversial as my review itself, with odd-looking video that simply should have been better, and decent audio, although perhaps not as great as it could have been. The extras are the one area of the disc where there is simply nothing to complain about. Fans of the film will still find this a fairly easy upgrade decision as there are indisputable advantages to the High Definition release, but newcomers should perhaps tread more carefully. This may well be a film classic - and there is no disputing that everybody should see this film at some point - but there is certainly no guarantee that it will be to everybody's tastes.
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