I wasn’t expecting much from the transfer here. I didn’t remember it looking particularly good in the cinema (although admittedly that was a long time ago, and my memory could be playing tricks), and being a low budget film I wasn’t expecting miracles from the 1080p 1.85 : 1 transfer in the OAR. Sadly, my suspicions were completely correct.
However, there is an important caveat here – and that is to do with the way the film was shot. I have said this many times in my reviews over the years, but the point of Blu-ray is to faithfully replicate the way a film looked in the cinema. Lost in Translation was filmed in a certain way – there’s a lot of footage shot in low light and some of the styles used were almost guerrilla. They didn’t have permission to film in certain places, so they would set up, get the shots and disappear quickly. One particular scene was even interrupted by the police and they had to leave. This meant that cameras often had to be set up to film using whatever natural light was available at the time and location they were using.
The result of this is that contrast can be extremely weak at times, and shadow detail is almost completely non-existent – detail just dissolving into a sea of messy blacks. There is a complete lack of detail in the image, and interiors often look washed out. Colour is also lacking severely in most scenes.
This is frustrating for the viewer, to be sure, but even more so when occasionally you get a stunning night-time neon lit shot of Tokyo with amazing detail and clarity and vivid colours jumping out of the screen at you. You can understand why the film looks the way that it does, but it is certainly barely an improvement on the DVD apart from a few shots which really show up the HD capabilities.
So how do you mark a transfer like this? It is actually incredibly difficult. It is a faithful translation of how the film was meant to look, and this has to be considered. If you wanted to Iextend a metaphor then the washed out, lack of detail could even be taken as the feelings of the two main characters.. But mark it I have to do, and the reality is that this film just was never destined to show HD off to its full advantage. If you already own the DVD and have a decent upscaler, the reality is that the Blu-ray is unlikely to offer you much improvement apart from a couple of shots. If you don’t, however, then the quality of the film makes this a worthy purchase despite the week picture quality.
When Lost in Translation was released on HD-DVD it was given a Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack, but on the Blu-ray this has been upgraded to DTS-HD MA 5.1. Again, if you are expecting to be completely wowed by the soundtrack you are going to be disappointed – the sound design on the original film wasn’t particularly expansive and for this release they have remained faithful to how the film was originally supposed to sound.
This is not to say that this is a particularly bad mix, and at no point is it as bad as the picture – it is just that the film was never designed to fill rooms with ambient sounds. As always we will start with the dialogue, and it is always clear and precise. It is well balanced within the mix and anchored firmly to the centre. Just occasionally it becomes slightly indistinct but this is always when it was meant to be this way and it was like this in the original mix.
There is also a surprising amount on bass in this mix – you might be shocked at how much of a workout your sub gets. The track “**** the pain away” which plays over the strip club scene absolutely pushes the sub, really giving it a good workout.
The surrounds are rather less utilised but still at times they manage to give the viewer a decent sense of immersion in the surroundings being portrayed on screen. This is by no means consistent throughout the whole film, but when they are used they portray ambient city noise excellently.
The slight drawback I would highlight is that the front separation isn’t as fantastic as it could be – the wideness of the front soundstage isn’t quite as good as one might expect.
This disc contains everything from the previous DVD and HD-DVD releases. Therefore there is still no commentary, and the extras that we do get are a little but on the light side.
We begin with deleted scenes which run for 11 minutes. I hate to be harsh, but this is perhaps the worst set of deleted scenes I have seen. It is good that they have been included but even watching them once is a bit of a chore. It is no surprise as to why they were excised. Much more interesting is A Conversation with Bill Murray and Sophia Coppola, but unfortunately this lasts a scant ten minutes. The two discuss their working relationship, the movie and the crew – all whilst sat on a rooftop in Rome.
The highlight of the extras is the excellent “Lost” on Location. This is absolutely superb, as you might imagine considering it was made by Coppola’s then husband Spike Jonze. It is very informal and not at all professional but this adds to the charm and features some fascinating insights. It lasts 30 minutes and engrosses for the whole length.
We then get a few extra little titbits including Matthew’s Best TV Hit (more footage of the Japanese show Bob appears on), a music video (City Girl by Kevin Shields), and a trailer.
However, we do get some Blu-ray exclusive extras. Coppola is released her latest film somewhere at the end of last year and it seems to be fairly similar in idea to Lost in Translation. On this disc we are presented with a trailer for it, and a brief 4 minute behind the scenes featurette looking at the making of it. I have to say – it looks rather good and I am looking forward to it arriving on Blu.
There really is no other way to describe Lost in Translation than as a modern classic. It may not be to everyone’s taste, as it does lack a story as such – but as a study of two directionless individuals finding an anchor in each other it simply has no peer. The sense of alienation in a foreign city, and the desperation of people trapped in a doomed relationship is beautifully essayed, and the two central performances are without flaw. Add to this assured direction, and a beautifully judged script and there is really no fault to be found.
Sadly, this cannot be said for the picture, which is pretty poor. However, you need to bear in mind how the film was shot and I thoroughly recommend not just looking at the mark but reading the section on the picture for the full story. The sound is much better though, and despite some inconsistencies does a very good job. The extras are also inconsistent, but there is an excellent making of which is worth a watch.
Is this worth a purchase then? Well, realistically if you already own the DVD and have a decent upscaler I sadly have to report that it probably isn’t. Only a few shots benefit from the HD upgrade – the rest look about the same as the DVD. However, if you do not have this film in your collection then I can do nothing but recommend it. It really is an excellent movie with plenty of rewatch value.
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