Fog, The : Special Edition DVD Review
MGM's release offers a full screen 4:3 modified picture on one side of the disc, and an anamorphic 2.35:1 image on the other. For this review, I watched the widescreen. John Carpenter's movies are made for the big, wide picture and this is the way that they are meant to be seen. Having said that though, I'm pretty certain he wouldn't have liked the transfer that The Fog has been given. I certainly don't. Despite being re-mastered and spruced up, this still looks as grainy as a movie from 1979 ought to look. In fact, the level of grubby grain is often terribly disappointing. Now, I can make a lot of allowances for film transfers, but when the film in question actually appears to clean itself up quite considerably from around the half-way mark, my suspicions are raised. With this, it is as though the re-mastering guys only remembered to turn their machine on after three-quarters of an hour.
The colours aren't too bad, possessing some strength and boldness. The burnished reflection of the campfire on the lid of Mr. Machen's pocket-watch looks nice. Daylight scenes are often wonderfully clear and bright, although background landscapes can be quite indistinct. The outcrop of rock where Andy finds the driftwood just looks appalling. However, some of the eerie looks out across the sea from the lighthouse still look positively entrancing.
Blacks are decent enough, but there are some swirling traces of blockiness within them, lending the image a grubby, murky look. Edge enhancement rears its ugly head, as does some artifacting and the layer change is one of the worst that I have come across. Luckily there is no smearing or pixilation, though. And John Carpenter's awesome compositions look tremendous.
The Fog's DD5.1 track is a major disappointment, I'm afraid. It is not surround as we understand it at all. The soundstage is predominantly concentrated on a frontal assault. Although always clear and never exhibiting any hiss or distortion, there is little attempt made at any effective steerage. The window-smashing of Nick's pickup sounds dull and directionless. Dialogue is crisp and nicely presented, though.
The sub only kicks in for the stingers and Carpenter's pounding score and the rears add very little in the way of ambience. But there is one nice aural sweep from front to back when the spooky driftwood ignites itself, but this only lasts for half a second. The score has plenty of presence, however. And the monstrous sound effect of Blake gripping the great golden crucifix has a nice deep bass rumble, but it really only serves to show just what could have been achieved with this remixed soundscape.
Overall, this track is a let down. There is the original mono mix supplied as well, but I found this lacked presence and impact. The 5.1 is the best way to hear The Fog as it stands.
The special features are found on the widescreen side of the disc. First off is the Commentary Track from John Carpenter and Producer and Co-writer Debra Hill. Let's put it this way, if you have any interest in filming techniques, the benefits of widescreen, steadicam and panavision, then this is the track for you. Carpenter, whilst in entertaining motor-mouth mode, bangs on about the technical side of the filming The Fog for most of its duration. Don't get me wrong, this is still very interesting and intensely scene-specific, but he seems almost anal about camera changes, set-ups, dollies and tracking and two-shots. He does reveal that he loved the location so much that he bought a house there, and he is polite and respectful about Adrienne Barbeau who, at the time, was his wife. One cool titbit - the metal steps in the lighthouse are actually those used in the Nautilus, from 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.
There are two little documentaries bolstering this edition. The first entitled Tales From The Mist (27.54 mins)is a newly produced feature made exclusively for this DVD with some great input from John Carpenter, Debra Hill, Dean Cundey (who, especially, gives a smart segment on the 2.35:1 anamorphic ratio), Janet Leigh, Adrienne Barbeau, Tommy Lee Wallace (production designer) and some old footage of an interview with Jamie Lee Curtis. Halloween gets a few nods, as does Carpenter's penchant for EC Comics, which flavours the movie's corpses out for revenge theme, and Barbeau maintains that her strong-woman character is influenced by Carpenter's admiration for his hero, Howard Hawks. It is also nice to hear that it was in good old Blighty that Carpenter and Hill got the idea for The Fog - the spiritual home of the classic ghost story. Speaking of which, both Poe and Lovecraft are namedropped, too. A great little retrospective piece, without too much in the way of back-slapping.
The next featurette, Fear On Film - Inside The Fog (7.39 mins) is from the time of the film's release and is produced by Mick Garris. This is a grainy TV broadcast that has a couple of terrible quality clips and a clutch of talking heads from Carpenter, Hill (with the most frightening hair you've ever seen), Curtis (with the second most frightening hair you've ever seen), her mum and Barbeau. Not bad for its brief running time.
Then we get four minutes of Outtakes. Hear John Houseman swear when he forgets his lines. See zombies dance. See Adrienne Barbeau gurn for the camera. But, best of all, see the naff original take of the body in the closet. Thank God, they swapped that shot.
The Storyboard-To-Film Comparison (1.23 mins) details the scene in which the tipsy crew of the Sea Grass meet the bloodthirsty crew of the Elizabeth Dane. It'll end in tears, I tell you.
The Advertising Gallery offers us the Theatrical Trailer and three TV spots, posters and memorabilia. The TV spots feature some really bizarre voiceovers. “What in the living hell is out there?” Sheesh!
And finally we get a Photo Gallery which features Publicity and Behind The Scenes stills.
All in all, this is quite a decent selection of bonuses. The Commentary is informative and entertaining and the new documentary is well worth a look.
A sleeper that continues to impress its original fans, and certainly gains new ones. Not the most successful mix of ghosts and carnage, but a supremely atmospheric chiller, just the same. The ensemble cast aren't all up to scratch - I'm not even sure why Jamie Lee Curtis is actually in the film, other than to capitalise on the success of Halloween - but the visuals and the setting are tremendous. The Sea Grass sequence and poor Stevie battling Blake's cronies are standouts, though. I loved it as a kid. I love it now, although it sure does wears its lame bits like a badge. By the way, I hear the remake sucks, big time. And, I'm hardly surprised. I pity the kids that sneak in to see that one.
MGM's release has pretty poor AV quality but more than makes up for it with some cool extras. The Fog is well recommended for a spooky night in over Halloween. It still delivers just the right atmosphere to chill the blood and make the hair on the back of your neck rise.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.98
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