Necromania and Octogenarian Love
Harold and Maude Blu-ray Review
Dark and quirky, Hal Ashby’s 1971 feature blends themes of necro-obsession with an unnatural age-gap relationship into an eccentric, offbeat product which estranges half of the viewers enticed into seeing it.If you’re on the right side of it, and warm to the strange romantic stream that flows through its death-driven narrative, then you’ll find much to engage with in this tale of a rich 20-year-old brat with a morbid obsession with death, who finds unlikely companionship in Maude, a close-to-death pensioner 60 years his senior. The mixture of unusual comedy – the kid gets his kicks staging mock-suicides to aggravate his up-herself mother – with darker tones surrounding death leaves this film with a sickly taste that takes a while to warm to (if ever), but the burgeoning romance between the two leads is, funnily enough, remarkably plausible, less because of Ruth Gordon’s allure as Maude (which is, somewhat thankfully, non-existent), but more because Bud Cort’s Harold is such an oddity himself, you almost feel that he’d have never found love in any other place.Frequently looking like a reanimated child-corpse himself, the incessantly smug Harold is unpleasantly creepy in the extreme. Unfortunately, but not wholly unexpectedly, the film is certainly not to everybody’s tastes, and where some might find the flipping from funny to sad; from comic to tragic, a welcome blend that helps keep things refreshing and unpredictable, others may become weary of the flippant, whimsical nature of the piece, and struggle to accept the atypical leads driving the film along. At the end of the day, you see, if you don’t like either of the main characters at the centre of a film, it’s hard to appreciate anything else that the film might have to offer; but with decent cinematography from the Oscar-nominated guy who lensed Scarface and Chinatown, and a suitably quirky soundtrack by Cat Stevens, it’s easy to see how those who do get a handle on the Harold and Maude dynamic must have found plenty to enjoy here.
What is Harold and Maude Blu-ray Picture QualityHarold and Maude reaches UK shores courtesy of Eureka, with a Region B-locked Blu-ray that sports a decent and respectful 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen. It is reportedly sourced from the same master as Criterion’s 2012 release, and generally looks very good indeed.
Despite the limitations of the 70s production, the presentation does the film justice.
Certainly it’s likely never looked this good, with strong detail levels that betray no overt signs of unruly DNR application, or excessive edge enhancement, and no striking digital defects – or print damage – either; a healthy sheen of suitably filmic grain pervading the piece and giving it a strong organic look. The colour scheme is intentionally steeped in soft pastels, but tones are rendered well, and black levels are decent enough.
How is Harold and Maude Blu-ray SoundThe aural accompaniment is almost as impressive, again presenting the film probably better than it has ever sounded before, coming in two distinct flavours – English LPCM 2.0 Mono and Stereo – and working well in both. Dialogue is given keen precedence over the fronts and centre channels, rising above the rest of the proceedings – not that it has much, beyond the songs, to compete with – and coming across clearly and coherently throughout.
This is likely the best that this film has ever looked or sounded... well, since the Criterion release.
Effects are inherently limited, and entirely atmospheric, bringing ambient flourishes to life with directionality and substance. Largely the mono and stereo tracks sound almost identical, and, although the former feels more natural, the latter promotes the Cat Stevens songs with more punch, which may push you in that direction. Either way, these are solid renditions of the audio for this feature.
Harold and Maude Blu-ray ExtrasAlthough we end up missing the expansive audio excerpts available on the Criterion package, Eureka instead gives us an Exclusive 26-minute retrospective Documentary hosted by film critic David Cairns, as well as porting over the same Criterion-recorded Commentary, again a retrospective job done by film experts.
Is Harold and Maude Blu-ray Worth BuyingHarold and Maude is a strange little study in morbidity and mortality, companionship and kindred spirits, boasting strong cinematography and an unusual soundtrack, as well as committed lead performances. Whether or not it will quite agree with you is another matter entirely, as the sickly, sordid underbelly of the piece doesn’t always gel well with the whimsical treatment of the subject.
This Region B-locked Blu-ray comes complete with solid video and audio as well as a few nice extras, making this a strong purchase for fans of the film, particularly those who remain Region limited and haven’t therefore been able to enjoy the earlier Region A-locked Criterion release.
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